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‘Uneven playing field’: Kelowna airport still waiting to resume international flights

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Testing now available to travellers at Kelowna International Airport'
COVID-19: Testing now available to travellers at Kelowna International Airport
You can now get a rapid COVID-19 test on-site at the Kelowna International Airport. YLW is making an effort to support safe travel for departing passengers who require a negative COVID-19 test before traveling internationally. – May 28, 2021

Nine out of 10 of Canada’s busiest airports have been allowed to resume international connections, but Kelowna International Airport (YLW) has been left off the list.

Sam Samaddar, YLW’s airport director, said he’s perplexed as to why the Kelowna airport, which was the 10th busiest airport in 2019, hasn’t been allowed to re-open by the federal government.

“It’s been somewhat frustrating for us, in terms of why Kelowna has not been opened up to accept international flights,” Samaddar told Global News.

Samaddar is still waiting on news from the agencies involved in the decision-making process on opening up airports to international travel: Transport Canada, the Canadian Border Services Agency, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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“We have asked for the criteria, in terms of what are they using — what did they use for Quebec City and Toronto Island at Billy Bishop Airport? — and the government has failed to provide us any criteria.”

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Planned fee change will raise the cost of most taxi rides to Kelowna’s airport

Kelowna International Airport processed two million passengers in 2019, and is just behind Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, which had a traffic count of 2.7 million passengers that year.

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Quebec City’s airport has also been given the green light to welcome international connections, despite being the 12th busiest airport in Canada with 1.7 million passengers passing through.

Samaddar said YLW follows all COVID-19 public health and safety protocols and has the capacity to test and do pandemic surveillance.

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“We believe that we have everything. In March of this year, we put in a fully certified lab, and we are using it for outbound for the workforce charters, and that lab has now been used quite extensively by the travelling public, who are travelling all over the world to get their test done, before they depart,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Rapid COVID-19 testing for LNG workers starts at YLW'
Rapid COVID-19 testing for LNG workers starts at YLW

Some airlines are already promoting international flights at Kelowna airport in December, but if YLW doesn’t get the go-ahead, passengers would be forced to arrive at their destinations via connections through approved international airports, such as Vancouver or Calgary, adding travel time.

“There is a huge pent-up demand, and so if you look at Alaska Airlines, what they have done is they have put in a placeholder starting Dec. 16 that says these flights are available in order to get something in place,” Samaddar said.

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WestJet is also offering flights in December to sunny destinations like Cancun, Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, and Phoenix.

Samaddar said the lack of international connections results in a $2.5 million economic loss to the airport itself, not to mention spin-off industries like the tourism and hospitality sector.

“What we are creating by a lack of government policy here is an uneven playing field for communities and (for) a lot of communities, Kelowna included, there is a huge economic hit by not being able to accept these flights,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Kelowna International Airport expects 70 per cent decline in passengers for holiday season'
Coronavirus: Kelowna International Airport expects 70 per cent decline in passengers for holiday season

Re-elected Conservative MP for Kelowna-Lake Country, Tracy Gray, said she is calling on the Liberal minority government to re-open YLW for international flights.

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“YLW remains closed to these flights despite being a busier airport than the re-opened Quebec City airport and having all health and safety protocols in place here,” Gray said.

“This uncertainty makes it impossible for airport operations, airlines, local businesses, and residents to plan.”

Global Okanagan has reached out to Transport Canada for comment.

Click to play video: 'Kelowna International Airport exceeds two million passengers for second year'
Kelowna International Airport exceeds two million passengers for second year

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