With no concrete timetable for when international travel will resume at Kelowna International Airport (YLW), the airport is at risk of losing $2.5 million in revenue as a result, according to the airport’s director.
YLW director Sam Samaddar said that he was advised by WestJet that if the status surrounding the airport’s access to international travel is not sorted out soon, the airline company will have to decide whether or not to cancel a number of Sun destination flights scheduled for early December.
“If we lose these flights, they’re not coming back,” said Samaddar. “WestJet will not put on flights in the middle of winter and January and February for Sun destinations, because they know people will have already made their decisions on what they’re doing.”
YLW ceased international travel services on April 9, 2020, to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Samaddar said that last summer, the airport proposed to meet with the federal government regarding the vaccine mandate for both employees and travellers, as well as the requirement of vaccination cards for travel.
“We involved the various parties — the International Civil Aviation Organization, the World Health Organization and the International Air Transport Association. Globally, we put together a number of documents to best handle this between countries and states in order to resume air travel once that got started,” he said.
“At every turn on these discussions, we kept getting turned back.”
Although YLW is the 10th busiest airport in the country, Québec City’s Jean Lesage International Airport was recently given the green light to accept international travel, despite being the 12th busiest airport based on 2019 passenger numbers. Similarly, the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport on Toronto Islands — the ninth busiest airport in the country in 2019 — was also granted permission to accept international travel.
“The fact that we’ve gone through these difficult 16, 17 months as it is, not having these services for our flying community is just unacceptable,” said Samaddar.
The decision to open YLW to international travel, however, is not a call that can be made by the airport alone. Samaddar said that there are three agencies involved: the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency and Transport Canada.
“In many discussions and dialogue with them, we’ve asked for what is the criteria and what is the timeline for opening up our airport back to accept international flights. We have not got an answer on any of that,” he said.
“We asked to give us the criteria for what was used for Quebec City and Toronto Island with Billy Bishop Airport, and they weren’t willing to provide that either.”
He added that if a decision can be made for the airports at Quebec City and Toronto Islands, a decision can be made for Kelowna as well.
“What we’re doing right now is by picking certain communities over other communities, we’re allowing an uneven playing field for the recovery of those communities as it relates to the economy,” he said.
In July, Kelowna-Lake Country MP-elect Tracy Gray wrote to the federal Minister of Transport asking the ministry what metrics are being used to determine which airports in Canada are allowed to re-open to international travel.
“Despite writing to the Minister in July, I have heard nothing but silence from the Minister or his department,” said Gray.
“The people of Kelowna—Lake Country deserve to hear from this government what metrics are being used to keep Kelowna International Airport closed, and what the timeline for re-opening is.”