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Big year for YQR airport in 2023

Regina International Airport made a lot of headlines this past year.

REGINA - A lot of the headlines that came out of Regina in 2023 had much to do with the activities at Regina International Airport.

News of WestJet service to Minneapolis-St.Paul, the final flight of Ukraine refugees to Saskatchewan, as well as the major runway reconstruction project at the airport — and a construction tragedy associated with it — dominated headlines in 2023. Here is a look back at the major stories associated with the airport in the past year.

Sunwing turmoil

The year began with turmoil, as the winter travel season was hit by good news and bad news for the Regina airport. 

The good news was that WestJet was adding additional Regina routes to their hub Calgary to fill the departure of Air Canada. The bad news was the cancellation by Sunwing of its entire winter sun destination flights that were scheduled to fly out of Regina. Only a small number of departures to Mexico destinations were spared the axe.

The news blindsided the airport, as well as the thousands of Saskatchewan travellers planning for winter getaway vacations in early 2023. It also pointed to wider issues plaguing Sunwing throughout that winter season across the country, with news coming later that WestJet would absorb the entire airline and complete that merger by next year.

The good news was that the airport announced in July there would be direct routes to nine international sun destinations during the 2023-24 winter season, including to the USA, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Cuba.

Final flight of displaced Ukrainians

The fifth and final flight, for the time being, of Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia landed at Regina airport in March. 

Landing at the airport March 27 was a Boeing 787 aircraft from Warsaw carrying approximately 230 Ukrainians to Saskatchewan. Those individuals were greeted enthusiastically by provincial officials when they arrived at the airport, and the new arrivals were quickly able to access accommodations and numerous supports in place.

This flight was the last under the Memorandum of Understanding signed on Aug. 12, 2022 between the Saskatchewan government and the humanitarian organizations Solidaire and Open Arms. All five flights had originated in Warsaw, Poland, with four landing in Regina and one to Saskatoon.

Regina runway construction project

A major story throughout 2023 was the runway revitalization project at Regina International Airport. Construction on main runway Number 13-31 started in May and ran until September when it was re-opened to air traffic. 

The airport diverted all flights to their secondary runway while the $26 million project was under way. The project was partially funded through the Government of Canada’s Airport Critical Infrastructure Program.

But it was far from smooth sailing for the project. Tragedy struck at 11:30 p.m. on Friday, May 26, in which a serious accident occurred involving a construction worker took place on airport property.

The construction worker passed away, and runway construction was halted for a brief time over the weekend before the project restarted.

Major WestJet news in the fall

Regina hosted the CEO of WestJet at a roundtable meeting with business and political leaders in October. Alexis von Hoensbroech visited Regina and one of the items that he heard about from business leaders was the desire to restore daily international service from Regina to the United States.

On Nov. 20, those wishes came true. WestJet announced a new direct route from Regina to Minneapolis-St. Paul, with seven day a week direct flights scheduled to begin on April 28.  

WestJet will use Bombardier Q400 aircraft to carry 78 passengers both to and from Regina and Minneapolis-St. Paul. In Minneapolis, passengers will be able to connect to 73 destinations across the USA through a codeshare partnership with Delta Air Lines.

The announcement was made at Canadian Western Agribition and was hailed by business leaders. The flights are backed by a route guarantee of $500,000 a year from the provincial government.

At the announcement, Regina airport CEO James Bogusz said: “Make no mistake, we're going to keep at this, we're going to look to grow this service, and we're going to look to make sure that our capital city here in beautiful Saskatchewan is now reconnected back to the United States on a full time basis year round."