YLW

About 4,000 people a day are flying in and out of Kelowna's airport, double the number seen last week before all three major highways to Vancouver were blocked by flooding and mudslides. 

The return of international flights to airports like Kelowna's is on hold until at least after the federal election, YLW manager Sam Samaddar believes.

Expectations based on federal advisories given in the summer were that international connections would resume last week at airports such as YLW.

"But that day came and went and we haven't heard anything. It's frustrating but there's not much we can do except keep asking," Samaddar said in an interview Wednesday.

"I really think it's a political issue now, and everybody's just stalling until after the federal election next Monday," Samaddar said.

The delay in getting the greenlight for international travel at YLW is costing the airport about $2.5 million in foregone landing fees from airlines and other associate revenue, he said.

And Okanagan residents interested in making winter travel plans don't know if they'll be able to fly out of Kelowna or have to head to another Canadian airport before going down south.

Nine Canadian airports are authorized by the federal government to handle international flights, the closest to Kelowna being in Vancouver and Calgary. In late July, the Liberal government indicated that international flights would resume at other airports on Sept. 7.

One of the airports now allowed to handle international flights is Jean Lesage Airport in Quebec City. That terminal's inclusion rankles Samaddar because it handled fewer passengers than YLW in 2019, 1.8 million compared to 2.1 million.

"Adding Quebec's airport ahead of Kelowna's was just a political decision," Samaddar said. "They never told us what criteria was used to open Quebec's airport but keep Kelowna's closed to international travel.

"This creates an unfair playing field in terms of economic recovery from COVID-19," Samaddar said.

In a normal autumn and early winter, about 20% of all passengers that pass through YLW are headed to international destinations, such as Seattle, Arizona, and Mexican resorts.

Three federal agencies are involved in the decision-making process on opening up airports to international travel, Transport Canada, Canadian Border Services Agency, and the Public Health Agency of Canada. YLW has the necessary facilities to comply with all federal travel rules on national and international flights, Samaddar said.