The approximately 5,000 people in the Okanagan who work in northern Alberta will have an easier commute by this spring.
Starting in May, WestJet Encore will provide daily, non-stop service to and from Fort McMurray, AB.
The flight will depart Kelowna International Airport at 7:30 a.m. and arrive in Fort McMurray at 10:26 a.m. The flight coming back will leave at 10:10 p.m. and arrive at 11:27 p.m.
According to Ferio Pugliese, president of WestJet Encore, fares will start at $146—taxes included—for the flight to Fort McMurray and will cost $161 to fly back to Kelowna.
“We know that here in the valley you have a number of workers who are working up in the oil patch,” said Pugliese.
“We’re delighted we can make that sort of connectivity.”
He explained the route will be serviced by a Canadian-made, 78-seat Bombarider Q400 NextGen turbo-prop plane.
“If you’re used to flying on turbo-props, one of the reputations they’ve had is for being noisy. This is a next generation aircraft; the Q in Q400 stands for quiet.”
Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray, who is also chair of the Airport Advisory Committee, said YLW statistics show 30,000 passengers already commute between Kelowna and Fort McMurray annually for work.
“Now they’re going to be able to do it much more conveniently, which is particularly important, because a lot of those people are young people with families back here,” said Gray.
“The new WestJet Encore daily flight to Fort Mac is going to have a huge impact on our region…we’re very grateful.”
Nancy Cameron, president and CEO of Tourism Kelowna, said this is a connection Tourism Kelowna has been “eyeing up…for several years now.”
“It connects us to a new market that has immense growth potential,” said Cameron.
“The tourism industry supports over 7,000 direct jobs; it’s a critical industry for this area. This connectivity will just bolster that and provide us with ongoing opportunity for growth.”
Robert Fine, executive director of the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission added the new route is “an incredibly positive thing for this community.”
“This particular market pair is extremely exciting, because it aligns us with a number of the sort of strategic initiatives that the economic development commission is involved with, around Alberta recruitment,” said Fine.
He added small oil and gas firms may now be more willing to consider locating their head office in the Okanagan.