A chorus of voices from the Kelowna business community is raising concern over the Kelowna International Airport (YLW) still being closed to international travel.
The issue was formally brought to the Ministry of Transport on Oct. 27 by Kelowna-Lake Country MP, Tracy Gray, for the third time. She had sent two original letters one on July 30 and the other on Oct. 7.
Michael J. Ballingall, Senior Vice President of Big White Ski Resort, has also been vocal on the issue. He said in an interview with Capital News that the airport not being open to international travel is “ridiculous.”
He said it’s a “bureaucratic bungle,” and that “someone’s just got to approve it, and away we go.”
“The planes are ready to fly, the staff is in place, someone just needs to sign off on it in Ottawa. It’s not rocket science.”
Joining Big White Ski Resort and Gray other Okanagan businesses are also fed up with the delay, such as CMH Heli-Skiing; Kelowna Chamber of Commerce; Kelowna Eye Care Center; Spence Valuation Group/SVG Capital Group; Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association; Tourism Kelowna.
The airport has been closed to international travel since April 9, 2020. Other regional airports, such as Québec City’s Jean Lesage International Airport and Toronto Islands’ Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport have already been approved for international services.
“As one of the top ten busiest airports in the country prior to the pandemic – it astounds us that YLW is not open to international travel when other airports across the country with less passenger traffic have been given the green light by Transport Canada,” Dan Rogers, executive director of Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement to Capital News. He said he recently brought the same statement to the B.C. Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services.
Ballingall said that international customers from places like California, Oregon, and Washington State can get to Kelowna through a number of routes, including flying through Vancouver, Calgary, or Seattle. The latter route through Seattle is one of the most inexpensive and quickest ways, he said.
According to Ballingall, Big White has been promoting the Seattle route for more than 15 years.
“You know, ski season is four weeks away. Our phones are ringing. People are inquiring. And they get very frustrated when they know that the pipeline they’re used to using has not re-opened when most of North America has re-opened.”
“So, it’s a disadvantage to the Central Okanagan, for sure.”
When asked about plans to mitigate potential issues, he said there is nothing they can do. “Most politicians don’t even answer our emails.”
“We’ve written new federal ministers on the subject. We’ve lobbied bureaucrats, deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers. We have a lobby group called the Capital Hill Group in Ottawa that is knocking on doors on our behalf,” he said.
Frédérica Dupuis with the Ministry of Transportation stated the federal government is prioritizing the health and safety of Canadians by taking a risk-based and measured approach to re-opening the borders.
“Consideration is being given to adding additional airports as conditions continue to improve. These decisions will be based on demand, operational capacity, the epidemiological situation in Canada and recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency,” she said in an email to the Capital News.
However, she did not respond with any information in regards to an actual date of when YLW would open to international travel.
With files from Aaron Hemens