The number of passengers at Kelowna International Airport is taking off.
Almost 1.9 million people went through the doors last year, setting a new record every month.
“We had a wonderful year. We were up 9.3 per cent in terms of traffic growth,” Sam Samaddar, Kelowna International Airport’s director, said.
Although the summer of floods and fires caused a dip in tourism, the number of people using the airport still went up.
“We saw tremendous growth throughout the year, but August was our peak month. We handled 179,000 passengers,” Samaddar said.
“Certain times of the day, if you look at a Friday morning or a Saturday morning, we’re running basically at capacity,” he said, adding that there is surplus capacity at other times of the day.
Winter months saw a sizeable increase in the number of passengers, which Samaddar said is largely due to a growing number of skiers.
“The jump in the numbers in the winter months is indicative of the fact that Kelowna really is recognized by visitors as a gateway to the Okanagan,” Lisanne Ballantyne, Tourism Kelowna’s president and CEO, said.
Tourism Kelowna is hoping to hit 3 million visitors a year by 2021.
“What we want to do is position it as a four-season destination, and we’ve got the product here. People just have to learn more about all the different activities,” Ballantyne said.
She said the summer’s floods and fires made it a challenging year for tourism in the Okanagan.
“What’s interesting though, is that 2017’s numbers are showing that we rebounded as a tourism destination,” Ballantyne said. “The overnight visits for occupancy rates for hotels are rebounding and are actually better on some months than they were in 2016.”
To meet growing demand, the airport will need to expand, Samaddar said.
“We know that our departure room is under pressure. We have to add more space in our departure room. Pre-board screening is another one,” he said.
With more than 65 daily flights and an economic impact of $789 million, the airport is the 11th busiest in the country.
“Look at Quebec City, St. John, Saskatoon, Regina — they’re much bigger than us in terms of actual population, but we’re ahead of them in terms of our traffic growth,” Samaddar said. “With Victoria, which is the 10th busiest airport in the country, we’re certainly continuing to close the gap on them.”
The airport is planning to handle 2.5 million passengers by 2025 and 3.5 million by 2045.