Delegates at this week’s B.C. Aviation Council annual general meeting in Kelowna don’t have far to look to see evidence of the “unprecedented demand” they say is out there for air travel in this province.
The airport that is hosting the council’s AGM, Kelowna International (YLW), is currently on its 25th straight month of record-breaking passenger numbers, a year ahead of its targeted date to handle 1.6 million passengers and is embarking on yet another major addition and renovation of its facilities.
“These (province-wide) increases indicate that flying is a preferred means of travel for both the people who live (in B.C.) and those who come for business and leisure,” said BCAC chairman Mark Duncan.
“The dilemma many airports are now facing is how to build the infrastructure that ensures they can keep pace with growth and remain economic generators for their communities and the province as a whole.”
Duncan pointed to YLW, as well as regional airports in Fort St. John, where numbers have nearly doubled in the last three year and Nanaimo, where numbers hit an all-time high for that airport in 2014.
He said while B.C. is home to 13 per cent Canada’s population, its airports handle 20 per cent of the country’s airport traffic.
YLW is the 10th busiest airport in the Canada and is often cited as a major economic generator for Kelowna, which owns and operates the facility.
But with its growing reach, with routes across Canada, into the U.S., to several sun destinations in Mexico and Hawaii and now Cuba, it is marketed as a regional airport for the entire southern Interior despite the presence of other, smaller airports such as the ones in Penticton and Kamloops.
And the province is also paying attention.
B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone said in recognition of the major economic impact regional airports are having on the provincial economy, it is providing $24 million over the next three years to help pay for infrastructure improvements through its 10-year B.C. On The Move transportation plan.
But that amount is not expected to go far considering the latest round of expansion and renovation work at YLW is expected to cost more than $50 million alone over the next five years.
In Kelowna, as with virtually all other airports in the country, improvements are paid for in whole or in part, by revenue generated from airport improvement fees. In the case of YLW, the fee is $15 on each ticket for a flight leaving Kelowna.
The airport, while owned by the city, is financially self-sustaining and generates the money it needs to operate through fees charged to users, not property taxation.
It makes money from corporate fees paid by the airport’s business users such as the airlines, the car rental firms, other business at the airport such as restaurants and retail stores and parking operators, as well as the travelling public through the AIF.
The BCAC meeting was scheduled to wrap up Thursday, with many of the 90 delegates leaving, as expected, by plane.