Airport expansion lures Canadian neighbors

    Have you flown out of the Bellingham Airport recently?
   Have you seen the new waiting area, the new screening area, the development of new parking?
   Have you experienced the larger planes Horizon is using? The tremendously lower fares they’ve just begun offering? The new flight times that may be more convenient (especially that last flight from Seattle each day, which now leaves a half-hour earlier!)
   Have you used the Delta service to Salt Lake? Allegiant’s service to Las Vegas or Palm Springs?
   Things are changing rapidly at our airport, changes that mean positive things on many levels for Whatcom County residents, and not just the better service to more destinations by more airlines.
   First, most of the people flying out of Bellingham don’t live in Whatcom County. In fact, if our potential passengers came only from here, we wouldn’t have half the service we do. No, most of our travelers are from outside Whatcom County, and most are from Surrey, Delta and Langley, B.C. Even people in Richmond and Vancouver, where the Vancouver International Airport is, are using Bellingham.
   This gives us a core population to draw from that exceeds 700,000 people. Now you know why so many airlines are looking at Bellingham. And trust me … there are more on the way.
   The benefit for us, beyond better service, is getting Canadians back in the habit of coming south. Since 9/11, our border crossings are down, and down significantly. In fact, the last time the Canadian dollar was this high, in 1990, we had twice the number of vehicle crossings we do today.
   Our airport is giving our Canadian friends reason to come back, and once they’ve done so, seeing them return to shop or recreate is far more likely.
   Second, the potential for more inbound tourism is significant. As more airlines add service to Bellingham, they will be looking to promote reasons for people to fly here. Having several more well-financed “advertising agencies” out there promoting the recreation benefits of our region will help businesses in the tourism and service sectors, bringing economic benefit to many.
   Finally, it’s a sign of our growth and maturity. Ten years ago, business travelers had two choices, fly or bus to Seattle, or drive to Vancouver. As our connections to the rest of the world expand, Bellingham’s business community will continue to mature as well. A more robust and connected business community means more international trade, more capital investment and more higher paying, “family wage” jobs. Who can argue with that?
   So I say, grow airport grow! Encourage the Port as it continues to make the important and clearly necessary capital investment in our airport that is needed. Support more parking, a larger terminal, more airlines, and even the potential for jet ways!
   These changes won’t just benefit those that use the airport, but will bring benefit to everyone in Whatcom County.

Ken Oplinger is the president and CEO of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry.


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