Campaign hopes to get on WestJet's radar

Jeannie Cavallo has lost a number of clients due to a lack of direct flight service at the Penticton airport.

“One specifically I can remember was looking at purchasing a $700,000 house,” said the real estate agent.

Cavallo is just one of about 380 people who have joined a social media movement trying to garner the attention of WestJet since they announced they are considering a regional carrier.

“If people have a summer home here, they want to be able to fly directly in here. For them to fly from Calgary to Vancouver and then to Penticton, is just not something they are willing to do,” said Cavallo. “I have had numerous people from Calgary saying with no flights, there is no way they could live here. The same goes for those heading back and forth for business, it is just too hard.”

Hers isn’t the only story of lost business and hardships caused by having to travel an hour north to Kelowna for direct flights to Calgary and further east. One Penticton woman posted on the Facebook page her husband flies in and out on WestJet every six days for work from Kelowna. Another woman complains of the hours spent driving to Kelowna, as she estimates her family flies at least 16 times a year.

Penticton’s Rob Murphy, who set up the Facebook group Bring WestJet to Penticton, said he believes it is a great venue for people to express their support for having WestJet land in Penticton. He even points to the recent Huffington Post article where a survey on Facebook chose Penticton as one of the 10 best places in the world to visit.

“I think there is a lot more support than we realize. I also think there are a lot of people in other markets that would come here more frequently, either as tourist or for business, if they could fly directly here,” said Murphy.

WestJet obviously is keeping an eye on the community support. Murphy took to Twitter on Monday trying to start a conversation and get a buzz going amongst Penticton residents to show their support for the regional carrier. By Tuesday, he had a Facebook group set up and WestJet public relations direct messaging him.

“They basically told me if the regional airline gets approved by their shareholders they have over 50 cities that are currently courting them. They are looking at and monitoring social media and community support in each of those cities as part of the package that their team is putting together for when they start to consider these cities,” said Murphy. “I think we need to be aggressive. I think the old cliché, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, applies.”

WestJet announced last month it is considering a new short-haul, regional airline starting as early as 2013 using a fleet of approximately 40 smaller, turboprop aircraft. The company, which largely has employees as stockholders, was to finish their voting on the decision if they should move forward with a regional carrier by today.

“We continue to be focused on the internal process with voting still underway. Until this process is complete and the board of directors has had the opportunity to review their feedback, we will not have any additional updates,” said Jennifer Sanford, media relations advisor for WestJet.

David Allen, Penticton airport manager, said it is too early in the game to determine if the airport would need renovations to accommodate a regional carrier. While the runway can accommodate many different types of planes, one issue could be in the terminal building. Currently, the building has a hold room with a capacity of 50 people, and any renovations would have to go through Transport Canada.

“I don’t think that will be the main issue. I think it will be if WestJet will want to come here. When we met with them three years ago they were very, very concerned that if they went to Penticton it would dilute the passenger traffic in Kelowna. I am sure that is still a big concern for them,” said Allen.


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