KELOWNA - As if running an airport isn’t complicated at the best of times — just throw in the holiday season and some bad weather.
“First you have people that don’t travel very often, they’re carrying more luggage than usual, some of it fragile and the load factors on the planes are around 100 per cent so that adds to the anxiety,” Kelowna International Airport general manager Sam Samadar says.
Staff are still getting used to the new outbound baggage system and the addition to the airport concourse, part of what Samadar calls the airport's “perpetual expansion.”
“It just takes longer to process passengers. Then you have to throw the weather into the mix. It may not be the weather here though that creates the delays, it may be somewhere else. And then you have to add in operations. Snow removal and de-icing.”
December isn’t the airport’s busiest month — August usually gets that distinction — but Samadar says the airport is expecting 100,000 passengers over the next three weeks through to Jan. 9 when local schools reopen.
Peak days for travel this season — it changes depending on a number of factors — are Friday, December 22 and December 26 and 27.
“We call them moving days,” Samadar says. “Tomorrow when the kids get out of school, that’s big. But school goes back late this year so traffic will be more dispersed when people go home."
Always a fast growing airport, Samadar says 2017 will show “phenomenal growth” in the passenger count, up 9.56 per cent from 1.73 million in 2016 to just under 1.9 million passengers moving through the airport this year.
He credits the strong provincial economy but also such things as improved Toronto service and the recent introduction of direct flights to Vancouver from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, Australia.
“They knew about it in the spring. Our ski hills have been selling into that market, bringing skiers into B.C. for January which is their summer holidays,” he says.
The airport’s 10-year master plan predicts more modest growth of three per cent for 2018 and beyond, and Samadar knows there will be slow patches but he still thinks Kelowna International is in a sweet spot for future growth.
“We know there are going to be downtimes in economy but we’ve been fairly resilient over the years, not going down as much as others,” Samadar says, keenly aware of the airport’s performance as a primary economic indicator.
“We see a downturn very quickly, as an economic engine of the community we serve,” he adds.
In the shorter term, over the holiday travel season Samadar is recommending travellers give themselves extra time to deal with possible delays, allowing 90 minutes before domestic departures and 120 minutes for international flights.
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