August 20, 2018 4:13 pm
Updated: August 20, 2018 7:09 pm

Smoke clears enough at Kelowna airport for passengers facing delays and cancellations

Visibility was down to less than half a mile at Kelowna airport over the weekend, forcing pilots turn back or find an alternate airport. As Kelly Hayes reports, the smoke wasn't as thick today for the airliners, but the smaller planes are still stuck on the ground, and that's having an impact on local commerce.

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Kelowna International Airport has been plagued by cancellations and delays because of heavy smoke from wildfires burning in B.C., but officials are more optimistic about conditions going into Monday.

“The smoke’s been here for a while now, but the last 48 hours have been the biggest challenge,” Sean Parker, Kelowna International Airport’s emergency operations manager said. “But today’s looking a lot better for visibility and the aircraft arriving and departing without any problems.”

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“Honestly, I think this level of smoke is unheard of for this area.”

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Approximately 30 flights were cancelled over a 24-hour period, Parker said. He estimated that would impact at least 1,000 people.

“It was a lot of shuffling for the airlines to get it caught up, and they handled it relatively well.”

READ MORE: Fire crews tackle Cool Creek, Snowy Mountain fires from air as visibility clears

Although pilots have plenty of technology available to them, they still need enough visibility to land, Parker said.

“You still need to have that visual contact with the ground to be able to do a safe operation,” Parker said.

There should be about 800 metres of visibility, he added.

READ MORE: B.C. wildfires linked to rising lumber prices and rallying forest company shares

“That allows enough time for a pilot to make that decision on landing, and whether or not he’s going to have to go somewhere else.”

People largely understood the situation and airlines brought in extra staff to help out as passengers faced lengthy delays [on Sunday}, Parker said.

“We’re going to continue watching the forecast. [On Monday] it’s good, and it’s not looking like it’s getting any worse over the next few hours, so we’re anticipating a good day,” Parker said. “Hopefully as the weather changes over the next couple of days, we’ll see a clearing that will put us in full operations without any major issues.”

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