The city is responding to WestJet passengers who really gotta go.
Work has started to install a single washroom in the departures lounge at the Brandon Municipal Airport while also increasing the size of the crowded lounge by about 10 seats.
One wall has been knocked down and an office will be eliminated to make way for the additional seating and one accessible single washroom, which is scheduled to be completed in the next few weeks.
"It’s not going to be perfect, it’s still going to be crowded, but it’s going to be a little bit better," said Tim Sanderson, the city’s director of transportation services, whose office has been sacrificed as a result of the lounge expansion.
The measure is temporary since the airport is gearing up for a major facelift and expansion, for which a cost estimate and plans will be released by the end of the year.
Those plans will be based on a redevelopment proposal from three years ago — plans which were based on a 50-seat aircraft landing in Brandon. However, since WestJet’s daily service to Calgary is via a 78-seat Bombardier Q400, the airport will now have to expand the building itself, increasing the initial cost estimate of $2 million.
So for now, staff and passengers will have to make due. Brandon’s transportation services department recently identified the major issues the airport has faced since WestJet started service in September. Most of those issues are a result of a simple lack of space.
"Everybody does a really good job, but the space is really tight," Sanderson said.
On top of that list is a plea to passengers to get to the airport early. According to the city report, passengers check in with 30 minutes or less to spare — a bad habit which has made the smaller space even more crowded during boarding time, Sanderson said.
The report also highlights the airport’s "dated" decor, including old flooring, adequate-yet-inefficient lighting and 1970s-style orange bucket seats. "It’s functional, but it’s not esthetically pleasing," Sanderson said, something that he said won’t change before the major renovations happen.
"There’s just a lot of unknowns and we don’t want to go and spend thousands and thousands of dollars on furniture now," he added.
According to the city, money for the major construction — which has no firm timeline yet — will come from its capital budget, but Brandon will also be on the hunt for provincial and federal funding for the redevelopment that will include a new baggage carousel, updated arrivals hall and passenger hold area, new furniture, new lighting, updated mechanical systems and anything else to keep WestJet (or any other potential airline) happy.
The first two months, however, have been deemed a success by the city’s transportation department and WestJet despite the numerous challenges the tiny airport faces.
"It’s as good as it can get with the existing footprint," Sanderson said.
Meanwhile, reports from several of Brandon’s passengers indicate interest hasn’t waned since the service launched and many of the daily flights have been full or nearly full.
WestJet didn’t provide any statistics, but airline spokesperson Brie Thorsteinson Ogle told the Sun that the aircraft "has been consistently operating at a high capacity" since the launch.
"In the two months since the launch of WestJet service into Brandon, we could not be more pleased with the performance, and we hope that this strong trend continues," she said in an email. "The entire Westman area has been incredibly welcoming and they have proven the need for air service in the area."