Kelowna International Airport

Despite handling fewer passengers than YLW, the airport in Quebec City can restart international flights on Aug. 9. Transport Canada says Quebec's airport is a better 'relief valve' for international flights than Kelowna's airport.

The airport in Quebec City has leapfrogged YLW in the restart of international flights because of that terminal's greater capacity, federal officials say.

Kelowna's airport serves more passengers than Quebec's but YLW isn't on the list of airports that can start handling international flights effective Aug. 9.

Quebec City was approved, along with Edmonton, Winnipeg, Halifax, and Ottawa.

"The selection of these airports was based on a number of factors, including the short-term operational capacities of the Public Health Agency and the Canadian Border Service Agency, the volumes of passengers, and the capacity of these airports to act as 'relief valves' to the four major airports (ie. help lower expected volumes at these airports)," Sau Sau Liu, a spokesperson for Transport Canada, wrote in an email.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the only airports allowed to handle international flights have been the ones in Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, and Toronto.

The increasing number of people who've been vaccinated, and reduced numbers of new cases, have made it possible to restart international flights at more airports, the federal government announced Monday.

Kelowna's omission from the re-start list was disappointing to Sam Samaddar, general manager of YLW. Before the onset of the pandemic, Kelowna was the tenth busiest airport in Canada, with more than two million passengers in 2019, and international flights to Seattle, Phoenix, and charter destinations.

Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec City handled 1.8 million passengers in 2019, making it the 11th busiest in the country.

Last year, with travel greatly curtailed by the pandemic, passenger counts at Quebec's airport plunged to 535,000, while YLW handled 730,000 passengers.

"If the re-opening (for international flights) had stuck only to Level One airports, we wouldn't have a problem with it," Samaddar said. "But they added Quebec City into the international flights marketplace as well."

Kelowna-Lake Country Conservative MP Tracy Gray, whose riding includes YLW, said the federal government has not clearly explained why Quebec's airport can restart international flights while only domestic connections remain in the offing for Kelowna.

"The federal government's announcement did not explain the rationale for the airports they chose to resume international air service, nor what specific data or metrics they are using for their plans on adding additional airports," Gray said in an email.

"This is unfortunate, however, it's consistent with how we've seen this government operate," she said. "It's difficult for all our local organizations involved, ranging from the airport and their operations to car rental, shuttle, taxi services, and tourism operators, when there are continually no clear plans discussed."