Penticton greets WestJet with open arms and financial incentives
The first WestJet plane into Penticton landed on Saturday and was promptly parked inside City Hall.
Mayor Garry Litke took delivery of the scale-model aircraft from WestJet Encore president Ferio Pugliese, whose company will provide once-daily, round-trip service between Penticton and Calgary starting Oct. 26.
Pugliese and dozens of other WestJetters visited Penticton for a formal welcome at a community volunteer appreciation event in Gyro Park a day after the long-awaited route was announced.
While the airline boss said previously that community support helped persuade the company to service Penticton, WestJet Encore will also receive financial incentives to land here.
Litke confirmed the city has committed to spend up to $100,000 from its tourism marketing budget to promote the new service in its first year.
“We did the research and that’s (WestJet’s) standard practice. And fair enough: You have to have some skin in the game because our commitment to them is to fill the flights, to make sure when those planes leave the ground there are enough passengers on it that that flight becomes viable,” Litke said.
The mayor noted he’s had discussions with the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association and neighbouring politicians and is confident they will help foot the bill.
“There will be, I’m sure, a willingness on the part of all the communities to share the responsibility for that financial commitment,” Litke said.
He also confirmed the city is negotiating airport costs with WestJet and is likely to waive the $300 landing fee, which would amount to $109,500 annually.
Pugliese would not confirm details of the incentives.
“We don’t talk about the arrangements we have with the various communities, obviously for competitive reasons,” he said.
“But it’s not unusual for us to work with communities directly and airport authorities… and the whole idea behind that is we enter the service, it allows us to get ourselves established, and that gives us the opportunity to grow.”
City resident Brooke Nowak was among the WestJetters who took part in the Gyro Park reception and then went into the community to generate buzz, and said she’s looking forward to commuting from Penticton instead of Kelowna.
“It’s kind of a long morning to get to work…. It’s beautiful, but it will be more beautiful once I have to drive just 10 minutes instead of an hour,” she said.
Nowak, a flight attendant for 11 years, was acknowledged for her efforts lobbying WestJet bosses for the new service.
“I’m part of this community,” she explained. “We’re a big team, a big family (in Penticton), and that’s what WestJet is, so it’s kind of just aligning.”