January 22, 2016 - 2:25 PM
KELOWNA - Kelowna International Airport has enjoyed steady passenger growth for years but the downturn in the oil patch has finally ended that run.
Airport director Sam Samadar says fresh numbers for 2015 show a half per cent drop in the number of passengers using the city-owned airport, down a fraction from the 1.6 million who used the airport in 2014.
Samadar says the airport's passenger survey shows approximately 5,000 people who live somewhere in the Okanagan were using the airport to commute to their jobs in the energy sector.
Earlier this week, Westjet announced the suspension of its daily service from Kelowna to Fort McMurray amid low passenger counts.
And Samadar says that doesn’t count the eight charter flights a week that, until recently, regularly flew out of Kelowna Airport loaded with oil patch workers. Those flights have mostly disappeared, he says.
“We’ve seen a drastic reduction in that type of activity,” he says.
The last time the airport showed a decline in passenger traffic was in 2009 in the wake of the financial downturn when traffic dropped one per cent from the previous year.
Samadar doesn’t downplay the lost oil patch passenger traffic but says the weak Canadian dollar has the benefit of encouraging more internal travel by Canadians and brings U.S. tourists north.
“We’re fortunate when looking at this airport. In tough economic times, we’ve seen very small reductions in growth,” Samadar says.
The airport is actively involved in promotional campaigns aimed at U.S. tourists, Western Canadians and the large Ontario market, he says, and works closely with major tourism draws such as Big White and Predator Ridge to help draw traffic to the Okanagan.
Samadar concedes the drop in annual traffic could continue as more large energy companies announce layoffs and cancel projects in the oil patch, but hopes the marketing efforts can offset that.
“We’re also having a strong ski season so that should help,” he says.
Should oil emerge from its price slump, Samadar expects the charter flights will start up again although whether Westjet will restart daily service is beyond his control.
“The charter flights will materialize again once the price of a barrel of oil goes up,” Samadar says.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016