Despite COVID delays, rising costs Kelowna airport's $108M expansion back on track | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Despite COVID delays, rising costs Kelowna airport's $108M expansion back on track

Rendering of Kelowna International Airport interior
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Kelowna International Airport

As Kelowna International Airport surpasses the two million passenger per year mark, its $108 million expansion project is well underway and no further delays are expected.

The airport announced its expansion project in 2019 but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, the first part of the project remains on schedule and the airport's CEO is excited for the much-needed expansion.

"At this point, we aren't anticipating any further delays, we've had a pretty mild winter which certainly helped keep the construction going, but right now the team is making good progress," airport CEO Sam Samaddar says.

"There's a fair bit of work coming up in 2024 which is a lot of foundation, formwork, concrete reinforcement and that is underway as we speak. There are things like the deep excavation for the basement that'll go under the terminal building expansion, and that work is underway. We'll also see the installation of a big screen that will be used for a lot of the buildup of the building."

To Samaddar, the need for this expansion is quite obvious, and it seems like travellers are also noticing a need for it.

The number of travellers is constantly growing and is set to keep on growing as time goes by.

"When we look at the growth of our airport, we've certainly gone beyond our 2019 numbers in 2023, and seeing those numbers shows us that the demand in terms of space, especially as we double the size of the departure room, is much needed," Samaddar says.

"At a peak passenger hour what we have is about 650 passengers per hour and this will take us well over 900 passengers per hour which will accommodate our future projected growth of about 2.5 million passengers as we head towards 2025 and beyond."

Rendering of what the outside of the Kelowna International Airport will look like
Rendering of what the outside of the Kelowna International Airport will look like
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Kelowna International Airport

When it comes to financing the project, Samaddar said the delay that was caused by COVID-19 was quite costly, but remains a necessity for the airport and the economic development of the city.

"Prior to COVID, we had an estimate of approximately $68 million to do that project and coming out of COVID with inflation, certainly the cost of labour has gone up, it's taken us to the number that we're at today which is $108 million," he says. "We've certainly seen significant increases in the cost of delivering the project, but we know it's very much needed, as we continue to project further passenger growth through the Okanagan. 

"When you look at the airport and what it means to the community: it's an economic engine that supports the broader community and the Okanagan. We're the tenth busiest airport in the country, the second busiest in the province and, honestly, a vital trade link to our community and the world. So, these pieces will help the airport to continue to help support the economy of the entire region."

While the costs for the expansion rose $40 million, none of it is being paid for by city taxpayers. The financing for the project is mostly being paid for by airport improvement fees. These fees are paid by travellers who depart from Kelowna.

The improvement fees at the airport have been stable for at least the past five years, but Samaddar predicts a rise in the next few years to allow the expansion project to continue.

"Our airport improvement fee is currently at $25 for on-plane passengers, so passengers boarding, and we do have some projected increases to that over the next couple of years," Samaddar says. "The $25 will stay intact this year, as it has since 2019 when we first developed the expansion program."

Rendering of Kelowna International Airport Interior
Rendering of Kelowna International Airport Interior
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Kelowna International Airport

This $108 million expansion project is being done in two phases.

In the first phase, travellers will notice the departure lounge double in size which will improve connections to aircraft gates and allow for more waiting areas as well as more food and beverage options. The security screening area will also be growing to allow reduced wait times at security, and passengers will now have direct access to the South gates.

The first phase of the project is scheduled to be done by 2026.

"A lot of the subsurface work, relocating things like the sanitary sewer, the storm sewer, the waterline, electrical ducting, gas lines and things like that. These were relocated so that's done," Samaddar says. "We had demolition of some of the existing terminal that had to be completed, so we can now continue the first phase of the project."

This expansion has come with a few disruptions to travellers, but nothing the airport and its users have not been able to handle.

"It's certainly a different path for our passengers because the areas that they were used to coming into the building have changed, but so far we've been able to manage that quite well with our passengers," Samaddar says. "We really appreciate people's patience as we continue to build up this facility.

"There will be further pain but we have been communicating with our partners and passengers as we develop in the further phases of this project. People are realizing, with how busy we are, especially in our departure room that can be very crowded, that there is a solution that is being developed and it's right next to them and they can see it happening."

Phase one of the project is projected to be completed by 2026, and the second phase should begin in 2036 and includes the expansion of the baggage claim area, a larger international arrivals area and relocated rental vehicles and tourism booths.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Gabrielle Adams or call (438) 830-1211 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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