Starting next month, passengers arriving at Kelowna’s airport from the U.S. and Mexico should sail through customs, pick up their bags and be on their way a whole lot quicker.
Thanks to the airport’s latest addition, a new 600-square-metre international arrivals hall, most passengers arriving from across the border can expect to cut their waiting time at YLW by as much as 30 minutes, says airport director Sam Samaddar.
The airport showed off its new international arrivals hall Wednesday, a facility that will open for use next month.
“Now you will arrive, be interviewed by a customs officer and your bags will be waiting for you when you’re done,” said Samaddar. Currently passengers have to wait for their bags before talking to a customs officer and that wait can be 20 to 30 minutes.
Samaddar said the airport has come a long way from the days when passengers arriving on planes from warmer locations had to shiver on the tarmac. They had to wait outside the terminal before going inside the cramped arrivals area, pick up their bags and talk to a customs officers who operated from podiums that the airport wheeled around the facility.
“And that was only in 1992,” he said. “We’ve come a long way and this facility proves that.”
The new international arrivals hall, which will be controlled by the Canadian Border Services Agency, has been added as part of the airport’s overall preparations for handling an estimated total of 1.6 million passengers per year starting in 2015.
The addition completes the $11.3 million first phase of the $50 million, multi-phase, multi-year project.
The work is being paid for by money raised through the airport’s improvement fee.
Despite the fact it is owned and operated by the city, the facility does not use taxpayer money to pay for its operations or improvements, said Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray.
The second phase, to begin next year, will improve the airport’s international outbound baggage system to conform to U.S. standards. It will allow passengers to pick up bags from Kelowna to be checked through to their final U.S. destinations on connecting flights using Seattle or, as of December, Los Angeles, will cost $22 million.
The arrivals hall will have enough space to process up to 250 passengers.
It will streamline the passenger processing experience by allowing the traveller to complete the customs processing prior to retrieving their baggage, resulting in a more efficient and quicker customs experience, said Samaddar.
The airport, which saw 1.4 million passenger pass through its terminal last year, and was the 10th busiest airport in the country, included 79,000 arriving passengers from outside Canada.
Alan Profili, operations chief at YLW for the Canadian Border Security Agency, said the CBSA will have four customs agents on duty in future during busy times, instead of just two now.
The new arrivals hall has also been built with energy conservation in mind.
As part of the overall plan for reducing the airport’s greenhouse gas output by 60 per cent despite doubling the size of the airport terminal by 2015, the new addition has several energy saving measures built in.
The most visible is a special rammed earth wall that not only acts as an architectural highlight but also has an energy massing capability that helps keep the hall warm at night and cool during the day. The floor uses radiant heat technology, the lights are LED and are set to dim as sunlight through a row of east-facing windows lights up the room.
Testing of the hall will start on international inbound passengers for selected flights next week and it is expected to be complete next month as the winter schedule begins.
Flights from Mexico, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, in addition to the year-round service from Seattle and Los Angeles (starting Dec. 19), will all be processed through the new facility.