An expansion starting next year will be the biggest and most expensive to date at Kelowna International Airport.
During City of Kelowna budget discussions this week, $67.3 million was earmarked for construction over the next three years to essentially double the size of the airport.
That’s the largest and priciest expansion at the airport since it started in 1947 as an airstrip called Ellison Field.
YLW is owned by the City of Kelowna, but the airport funds itself entirely through its own revenues. The money for expansion will not come from taxation on Kelowna homeowners.
To help raise the cash, Kelowna’s airport is jacking up its improvement fee by $5 to $25, effective March 1, 2020. The fee is built into the price of airfares of every passenger departing the airport.
Such fees are common among Canadian airports, and airports around the world, to fund capital projects and cover the cost of associated debt.
“Today marks the next step in our plan to expand the airport to ensure it meets the needs of our region now and well into the future,” said Kelowna airport director Sam Samaddar.
“With this investment, we can begin construction in the spring of 2020 to better serve more passengers.”
The expansion, which will be complete in 2023, will double the size of existing departure areas, add security screening and provide more shops, restaurants and bars.
The airport apron will be enlarged to accommodate bigger and more airplanes. The apron is the outdoor area beside the terminal where planes are boarded and unloaded, refuelled and parked.
More air-side equipment, such as snowplows, will be purchased to keep the apron, taxiways (connections between runway and apron, terminal and hangars) and runway clear.
There will also be more air-side lighting and a possible self-serve luggage drop.
The last expansion at the airport, in 2015-17, was also the biggest and most expensive at the time at $55.6 million for more gates, new check-in counters and more baggage handling, stores, restaurants and plaza adjacent to the terminal with gas station, car wash and additional restaurants.
The ambitious expansion for 2020-23 is part of the airport’s capital development plan called Soaring Beyond 2.5 Million Passengers.
The airport is in rapid growth mode and has seen a 31% jump in passenger traffic over three years to 2.1 million in 2018.
That count makes it the 10th busiest airport in Canada, behind Toronto Pearson, Vancouver, Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Halifax and Toronto City Billy Bishop.
Yet, Kelowna is the 20th biggest city in Canada by population, which means its airport is busier than those in larger cities such as Hamilton, Quebec City, Victoria, London, Saskatoon, Regina, St. John’s and Windsor.
The key to Kelowna’s success has been to grow as a regional airport and to attract airlines to fly non-stop to a myriad of destinations.
Currently, passengers come from throughout the Southern Interior to catch 70 flights daily with nine airlines to Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria, Prince George, Seattle, Cranbrook and Whitehorse. Summer flights are offered to Winnipeg, and in winter you can fly to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, Varadero, Cuba, Las Vegas and Phoenix.