WestJet planes at YLW.—Image: Capital News file

Kelowna airport numbers sky-high in 2017

Forget the "Drive to 1.6 Million Passengers," YLW set to top 1.9 million

Last year was another record-breaking year at the Kelowna International Airport.

According to airport director Sam Samaddar, once the final numbers are in for the busy month of December, YLW expects to have seen a new record of 1.9 million passengers passing through its terminal in 2017.

As it stands, the 2016 record of 1.56 million passengers was eclipsed in October when the year-to-date number for 2017 hit 1.57 million. That was followed in November by another 256,000 passengers and the total for December—typically one of the busiest travel months at the airport—is expected to see an even larger number added.

As of the end of November, the passenger volume at the YLW was running a whopping 9.63 per cent more than at the same point in 2016.

“Of the top 28 airports (in Canada)—which account for 98 per cent of the air traffic—we are the fastest growing,” said Samaddar.

He said, with the exception of the country’s largest airports—it has been a long time since a Canadian airport has crossed the two million passenger mark.

Samaddar attributed the phenomenal growth at YLW to a number of factors, including the population growth in the Central Okanagan and the ongoing effort to make the airport as low-cost as possible for airlines. He also creditted connectivity of YLW to other major airports in Canada and the U.S. to allow one-stop international access and the growth of smaller, regional airlines that use the airport for the increased numbers.

But the growth is also taking a toll on YLW’s expansion plans. It is well ahead of where previous plans expected it to be at this time.

The airport just completed a new multi-million dollar outbound baggage system and officials are now looking at expansion of the departure lounge and the arrivals area. It also needs to expand its inbound luggage system because the current system is hard-pressed to handle all the bags when several planes arrive at the same time.

“We’re at over-capacity now,” said Samaddar.

The most immediate requirement is to expand the aircraft parking area to accommodate larger planes and to carry out government-mandated improvements to the airport’s landing system.

Samaddar said YLW, which is owned and operated by the City of Kelowna and is financially self-sufficient, also has to be careful not to add infrastructure too quickly so it doesn’t have buildings not being fully used and expensive to keep open.

“So we try to build in stages,” he said.

But the problems with growth that Samaddar and his staff at YLW face are ones most airport managers would love to have.

He said one of the focuses in 2018 will be more flights to Toronto’s Pearson International, because from there it is just one flight to more than 170 destinations around the world.

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