Penticton hopes to land WestJet service

An announcement that WestJet is considering launching a regional airline could mean the return of direct flights to Calgary from Penticton.

“There is an opportunity in the future that WestJet could come with the possibility of an expansion to a regional carrier,” said Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton. “Penticton is a logical choice for WestJet.”

On Monday, WestJet announced its consideration of a new short-haul, regional airline starting as early as 2013 using a fleet of approximately 40 smaller, turboprop aircraft.

Pacific Coastal Airlines ended its operations at the Penticton Regional Airport in 2009, leaving Air Canada Jazz as the only airline operating there. With no direct flights from Penticton to Calgary, travellers had to divert to Kelowna or Vancouver to catch a flight to Calgary. Air Canada Jazz only offers daily flights from Penticton to Vancouver.

During the 12 months that Pacific Coastal was on site, the Penticton airport saw 22,000 more travellers according to David Allen, manager of the Penticton airport. He told the Penticton Western News in 2009 that despite that fact, there wasn’t any drop off in Air Jazz activity.

Ashton said the return of flights with a Calgary connection would be “huge.”

“When you take a look at not only Penticton, but the South Okanagan Similkameen, there are a lot of people that work in the oil fields and also there are a lot of people that have secondary homes, vacation homes in this area that are coming from Alberta,” said Ashton. “If you are flying east to Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa, it also gives you that direct connection to Calgary and those flights out of Calgary.”

Ashton said the impact of losing that connection to Calgary was a tremendous loss.

“I think it is a huge benefit to those in business to have a connection here but also all across the board,” said Ashton.

WestJet president and CEO Gregg Saretsky said on Monday that they are meeting with WestJet employees throughout January to get their input on the short-haul, regional airline decision.

“One of the cornerstones of our success is engaging with employees early on in key decisions and I am confident they will see the strategic value of this initiative. Once our employees have had the opportunity to share their input, we will be in a better position to make a sound decision rooted in employee feedback and engagement,” said Saretsky.

Clive Beddoe, WestJet chairman and principal founder, said he is excited at the prospect of repeating the success of WestJet’s beginnings.

“This new airline, powered by our low-cost model and strong corporate culture, would greatly benefit the guests we serve, their communities and our shareholders. Our single fleet of Boeings will be joined by a sister company operating a single fleet of turbo-props to maintain maximum efficiencies for both airlines,” said Beddoe.

One major industry in Penticton, tourism, could be greatly affected by a regional carrier. Jessie Campbell, marketing manager for Tourism Penticton, said Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton are Penticton’s gateway markets, and having direct access would be “greatly beneficial.”

Penticton economic development officer David Arsenault said he has had some initial discussions with WestJet and is putting together a prospective business case to hand to them about having a regional carrier in Penticton.

“It is certainly something the community has identified as a need, to expand services out to the Alberta market. It makes sense for our tourist population, makes sense for those people that work in the oil patch and, of course, all the Alberta investors that own property here in Penticton and south of this area,” said Arsenault. “It’s been talked about for a number of years and it’s a matter of putting the resources, time and money into developing a prospective for potential carriers in expanding their flight service. We know there is a need, we have to prove there is a demand.”

Last month, Kittyhawk A/C Service Inc. owner Gordon Lindsay, announced the purchase of next-door neighbour Southern Skies Aviation at Penticton Regional Airport. This comes on the heels of the start of work on a $5 million construction project at Canadian Helicopters and word of a million-dollar, apron enlargement to provide additional room for incoming aircraft. Lindsay is also looking into the addition of more air charter services and some form of direct-flight connection to Alberta.


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