October 12, 2016 - 6:30 PM
PENTICTON - Things are looking up at the Penticton Regional Airport as passenger counts continue to rise.
The Penticton Regional Airport completed it’s passenger holding area earlier this year and not a moment too soon given the increase in passengers.
Transport Canada won’t say exactly how many more passengers are using the airport this year calling the information “commercially sensitive” as there are only two carriers — West Jet and Air Canada — flying out of the airport.
Transport Canada did reveal aircraft movements at the airport are on the rise, after remaining relatively flat for three years. Takeoff and landings are up 2,479 from 2011, rising from 26,935 that year to 29,414 in 2015. Aircraft movements in the intervening years from 2012 to 2014 numbered less than 23,000 annually.
Rising passenger numbers and air traffic are the reason behind a consultant hired by Public Services and Procurement Canada to review the current terminal building layout and look for ways to increase efficiencies in space, particularly the airline ticketing area.
Air Canada spokesperson Angela Mah says the airline does not disclose passenger counts on a route basis, but notes Air Canada Express currently has three flights daily from Penticton to Vancouver using 50 seat Dash 8 aircraft.
WestJet spokesperson Robert Palmer says year to year comparison on passenger traffic are difficult to make as the airline's number of flights in and out of Penticton diminished this year due to the economic downturn in the Alberta oil patch.
"That said, what we can say is that we are very pleased with the performance of our Penticton to Calgary route," Palmer says.
The airline's morning flights to Calgary take off Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, while the evening flights arriving in Penticton from Calgary are scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. There is also a daily flight from Calgary arriving at 2:25 p.m. and returning to Calgary at 3 p.m.
Transport Canada Senior media relations advisor Natasha Gauthier says the airport finished an expansion of the hold room capacity from 50 to 110 seats. Further improvements will depend on the results of the consultant’s report.
Discussions surrounding the possible takeover of the airport by local governments have died since the Liberals came to power, say First Nations and local municipal groups who were involved in the discussions.
Penticton Indian Band Chief Jonathan Kruger says the band is focussed on maintaining it’s claim to the airport, noting historically the land was expropriated during the Second World War to build a military airfield and never returned to the band.
“We’re concerned about any transfer of management without consultation. At the end of the day, it’s band land, everyone involved knows that, and we’ve talked about our interests,” he says.
Kruger says infrastructure being developed by the Penticton Indian Band will allow the airport to hook up to the band’s water supply and allow the band to provide fire protection to the site.
He would like to see Transport Canada invest in a study looking at different business models the airport might operate under. He suggest a potential partnership with Kelowna International Airport might benefit both facilities.
“They’re getting big, they are successful. We should try working together,” he says, adding a collaborative effort might see Kelowna airport’s overflow directed to Penticton.
Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen chief administrative officer Bill Newell says discussions over operation of the airport have stalled since the 2015 federal election.
Newell says Transport Canada originally advised the regional district the Conservative government was interested in revising the National Airports Policy to create a new airports disposition program.
“That hasn’t seemed to have made the priority list for the Liberal government, and there won’t be further progress until that changes,” he said in an email.
The City of Penticton's economic development officer Colleen Pennington says the city does not have a policy or a position regarding management of the federal facility.
“The contribution of the airport to the economy is significant. Convenient air service is important to the city and the South Okanagan,” she says.
Pennington says she hopes to see more changes to keep the airport up to date.
— This story was updated at 10:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016 to correct information provided by WestJet regarding flight schedules to and from Penticton Regional Airport.
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