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Canada-U.S. land border opening dims chance for Kelowna International Airport winter rebound

Kelowna International Airport (YLW). Global News

Hopes that Kelowna’s airport would see a winter economic rebound dimmed a little more this week.

United States officials announced Wednesday it is set to reopen its land borders with Canada and Mexico in early November to travellers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — a move that YLW manager Sam Samaddar was frustrated to see before his airport was given the green light to bring international flights back to the Okanagan.

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

“It creates an even greater uneven playing field for us,” he said. “Now people can drive across the border and pick up a plane in Bellingham or Seattle (to connect to another destination),” Samaddar said.

The airport once had regular flights to Seattle, as well as a number of sunny wintertime destinations.

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None of those are possible until Transport Canada gives the airport the go-ahead to allow international flights, something that’s been expected since the summer when other like-sized airports got permission.

It’s an economic opportunity to bounce back from the pandemic that’s been lost, said Samaddar.

“It’s continuing to spiral the situation and make it worse,” he said.

“What’s already happened is that we had flights expected to start in early December and because of the lack of response (from Transport Canada) we’ve lost half of December for transborder flights into the U.S. or Mexico.

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“Those have already been removed. It’s already having an impact — if we don’t hear soon we could lose the entire season.”

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In addition to finding out when International flights can return to the area, Samaddar said he was hoping to at least glean some information about what the criteria for reopening airports may be.

Transport Canada said any changes would be announced in “due course.”

“The Government of Canada is prioritizing the health and safety of everyone in Canada by taking a risk-based and measured approach to re-opening our borders,” a representative from Transport Canada said in an emailed statement.

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Consideration will be given to adding additional airports in the future as conditions dictate; that is: based on demand, operational capacity, the epidemiological situation in Canada, and recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency.“

Kelowna International Airport was one of the country’s 10 busiest airports prior to the pandemic, offering 47 passenger flights a day to 14 destinations across Canada and in the U.S., as well as to Mexico and the Caribbean.

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Now there are just nine flights a day to eight Canadian cities.

Read more: Don’t travel unless ‘absolutely necessary,’ Hajdu reminds Canada ahead of holiday season

Under the new rules, White House officials said non-essential travellers will be asked about their vaccination status at land border crossings, and only those who are fully vaccinated will be allowed through. Proof of vaccination will be required for persons selected for random screening.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Wednesday that the government is still “working to clarify and finalize all the details with our American partners,” but that Canadians should be mindful of COVID as they consider their travel plans.

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