Success, it would seem, is coming early for Kelowna International Airport.
The airport’s drive to 1.6 million passengers per year is a full 12 months ahead of schedule thanks to 15 straight months of record-breaking growth.
As was the case every month in 2013, YLW has set records for growth in the first three months of this year, including a surprising six per cent jump in January followed by an even more surprising eight per cent increase in February. Last month, YLW was 8,000 passengers ahead of the number it handled in March 2013.
“We were really surprised,” said airport marketing and media relations co-ordinator Jenelle Hynes. “When I saw the numbers for January, I said we should go back and check again.”
She said she was even more surprised when February’s numbers came in even stronger.
“That is huge growth.”
She said January saw an increase over the same month last year of 7,600 passengers while February saw an jump of 10,655 passengers.
It’s overall 4.11 per cent growth in 2013 was amongst the highest for any Canadian airport handling more than one million passengers and well ahead of much larger airports, such as Vancouver International and Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International (both at 2.1 per cent), Toronto’s Pearson International (3.4 per cent), Ottawa (-2.3 per cent), Halifax (-0.6 per cent) and Winnipeg (-1.5 per cent). Both Calgary International and Edmonton International had stronger growth last year at five per cent and 4.6 per cent respectively.
YLW which set up a phased, multi-million dollar plan to increase and improve its infrastructure over four years starting in 2011 in anticipation of reaching 1.6 million passengers per year in 2015, is now a year ahead of schedule in term of passenger numbers.
Hynes said because of the planning, design and construction required for the work, it cannot be speeded up despite the stronger than expected growth. The airport, while owned by the city, is financially self-sustaining and does not rely on taxpayer money to operate.
This year, the airport plans to spend $5 million relocating a loading bridge, renovating washrooms in the arrivals hall, expanding the airside apron for planes and upgrading departure lounge concessions. It has already build a new international arrivals hall and completed several other improvement projects to help move passengers through the terminal faster.
One of the major infrastructure projects yet to be completed is an improvement to the baggage handling and delivery system at the airport, including new baggage carousels.
Hynes said much of the remaining work will be “behind the scenes” projects that the flying public will not see but which will make their travelling experience using YLW more smooth.
In 2013, the airport saw just over 1.5 million passengers use the terminal, a figure it had not expected to reach until late this year.
The airport is now the 10th busiest in Canada, just behind Victoria and well ahead of St. John’s in Newfoundland.
Part of the recent growth at the airport has been attributed to a full year of the Kelowna-Los Angeles route operated by United Airlines, introduction of Pacific Coastal Airlines Kelowna-Cranbrook route six days per week, Air North flying between Kelowna and Whitehorse twice a week and bigger planes used by Air Canada for its flights to Vancouver. Flights between Kelowna and Fort McMurray are due to start March 12.
Hynes said in addition, YLW has also become a mini hub airport for some air travellers from places like Whitehorse and the Kootenays, who prefer to connect to sun destinations—like Mexican resort cities—in Kelowna rather than travel to Vancouver to catch their connecting flights.