'Mixed bag:' Kelowna airport traffic returning to normal but fewer flights | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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'Mixed bag:' Kelowna airport traffic returning to normal but fewer flights

FILE PHOTO - Westjet plane

Kelowna’s airport traffic levels are beginning to return to pre-pandemic levels but fewer planes are flying due to staffing shortages.

In May of this year, airport traffic increased by 502% compared to the previous year in May, was up by 248% in June and July saw a 64% increase compared to 2021 numbers, said Kelowna International Airport director Sam Samaddar.

“The best way to describe it is kind of a mixed bag,” he said.

Pre-pandemic, 2019 had a record year for airport travellers. May was down 5% compared to 2019, up 4% in June and down 11% in July this year.

“Our major air carriers contracted their schedules and reduced the flying just to try and manage the labour shortage issue,” Samaddar said.

Labour shortages have been ongoing in airports across the country and in other industries since the pandemic.

“Overall when we look at 2019, we’re down about 23%... so obviously we’d like to try and close that gap but we are still in a very unstable time because the consumer reaction is also different with the cost of inflation being much higher and that has had some effect on people’s decision making in terms of air travel,” he said.

Since the war in Ukraine began, gas prices have been impacted across the country. This has also impacted the aviation industry as the airline’s biggest cost is fuel, he said.

Next month, Samaddar said he expects to see staffing challenges but the good news is the gap in travel demand is closing between pandemic and pre-pandemic levels.

READ MORE: Worst of Thompson-Okanagan worker shortages are behind us: economist

“We have to look at Kelowna as part of an aviation system. So if you’re having problems elsewhere with flights being delayed because of staffing challenges and things like that, then that affects the entire system. As a country, we are still struggling with a labour shortage issue, especially when you look around major airports, it certainly has gotten better. I don’t want people to take this the wrong way but there’s still a challenge that we’re dealing with and we’re certainly trying to solve,” he said.

A job fair was held in June to attract employees. Samaddar said airlines were able to hire people directly from the fair but there’s still a gap and the airport plans to hold another one this fall.

READ MORE: Kelowna airport holding job fair to ‘weather the storm’ as traffic increases but staff levels remain low

“To get into September, I think we’re going to have a mixed reaction from some of our air carriers. Some air carriers will pull back some of their flying even further,” he said. “The positive thing is that we’re seeing our sun destinations return.”

Direct flights to places like Cancun and Mexico have not been available for years due to the pandemic, so they’re looking forward to seeing those flights come back online for the winter, he said.

READ MORE: Huge business centre proposed for Kelowna airport industrial park


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