Kelowna News

Growth at Kelowna airport triggers possible fee hike

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KELOWNA - The airport improvement fee at Kelowna International Airport may jump 67 per cent in March because of sooner than expected growth in the number of people flying.

The airport could reach 2.1 million passengers by the end of the year, a number that even the most optimistic projections didn’t see happening before 2020. This could make it the 10th busiest airport in Canada.

“We’re tracking well ahead,” Shayne Dyrdal, senior manager of airport finances told “It’s a great thing to be happening, but making it a little more crowded than we anticipated.”

The Kelowna Airport Advisory Committee will review the Soaring Beyond 2.5 Million Passenger Program on Friday, Oct. 5.

It's the latest plan in an ongoing process to expand airport facilities to accommodate increased use and calls for the airport improvement fee to increase to $25 per passenger per flight from its current rate of $15. The fee was initiated about 20 years ago and has been at $15 for at least three years.

A first look at what’s needed for the airport to accommodate 2.5 million passengers pegged the cost at $329 million, requiring an improvement fee of $45, according to a report going before the committee on Friday.

Spending projections have been cut back to $187 million by the end of 2029, allowing for a smaller fee. The airport improvement fee is included in the cost of the flight so passengers don’t see it as a separate item on their ticket.

What they will see, if the spending plan is approved, are significant changes in the terminal.

Current projects that are visible to the public include some renovations in the departure lounge and a second westbound lane on Airport Way to connect to Highway 97. The roadwork should be finished by the end of this year.

If approved, the first visible change under the new plan will be a $4.2 million bridge on Gate #2 that will assist with international flights. Currently five of the 10 gates have bridges, so passengers don’t have to walk outside.

The departure lounge is scheduled for a $50.2 million, 1,250 square metre expansion by the summer of 2022. That will almost double the size of the lounge and provide room for a bigger security area.

A $2 million self-serve baggage drop is planned for 2023. This will allow passenger to bypass airline workers and drop their ticketed luggage directly on a conveyor belt.

By the winter of 2025, the arrivals lounge will move to the south end of the building at a cost of $33.4 million. It will mean switching from the current baggage belt style to two carousels, similar to what are used in Vancouver. Those allow luggage to be accessible from all sides inside the building.

Much of the $187 million work at the airport will not be visible to the travelling public, including $42 million pavement rehabilitation and $17 million in apron expansion.

The 20-member Airport Advisory Committee is made up of municipal and business leaders from Penticton to Salmon Arm and chaired by Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran.

If it approves the plan on Friday, it will go to Kelowna city council this fall for adoption. Spending for 2019 will need to be approved during city council’s provisional budget discussions in December.

The airport is totally self-funded through the improvement fee, landing fees and revenues from things like parking and terminal businesses.

In terms of passenger counts, Kelowna was #11 in Canada in 2017 at just under 1.9 million passengers, about 41,000 behind Victoria International Airport. Kelowna’s passenger counts grew by 9.3 per cent in 2017 and were up by 9.9 per cent by the end of August this year to 1.4 million.

Dyrdal said Victoria’s is showing strong growth this year, but Kelowna is expected to claim the #10 spot. That still leaves Kelowna a long way behind the country’s ninth busiest airport, Toronto’s Billy Bishop City Airport. It had 2.8 million passengers in 2017.

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