Air Canada hears Penticton request

Mayor and two others sit down with airline executives to find out what is stalling an eastbound flight from airport here

A meeting with several Air Canada executives gave Penticton’s Mayor Garry Litke a chance for some straight talk about the South Okanagan’s need for a direct flight to Calgary.

“Their reticence about making a decision that would benefit not only Penticton, but them as a corporation as well, seems overdue,” said Litke. “So I said to them, you are losing 30 per cent of the customers that would otherwise fly Air Canada out of Penticton and are now going to Kelowna and flying WestJet.”

During a visit by Kevin Howlett, Air Canada senior vice-president, to Kelowna, the city was able to arrange an hour-long meeting with him and five other top executives.

The main thrust of the meeting was finding out what is standing in the way of Penticton airport getting that Calgary flight, according to Litke, who was part of a team that included economic development officer Colleen Pennington and Andy Oakes, chair of the airport committee.

“If we are not going to be able to form a partnership, then let’s stop wasting our time. Tell us what the obstacles are, we will overcome them,” said Litke, repeating what he told the executives. “Let’s stop thinking about this and I will go find a private charter operator or we will go back to WestJet or we will find another way because I have constituents seriously requesting we continue working on an eastern route.

“If it is not going to be you guys, then we will find someone else that can do it.”

According to Pennington, the key issue they wanted to communicate was the 30 per cent loss in traffic at Penticton airport from people driving north to fly to out of Kelowna. Too often, she said, all that is looked at is the actual traffic passing through Penticton airport, not the numbers that would use it if a Calgary flight was available.

Pennington said she wanted one of two things out of the meeting with the executives: confirmation that a flight is possible and what was holding Air Canada back or an admission that the flight would never happen.

“Knowing what not to work on, with limited resources, is equally important. Happily, we got the first and not the second,” she said.

While that doesn’t mean a flight is likely in the near future, Pennington said what they heard from the group of six Air Canada executives was positive.

“They wanted to know what kind of connectivity we needed. I thought they asked us the right questions to demonstrate they were taking us very seriously and listening to what we had to say,” said Pennington. “It was very specific, very directed.”

This is the first time the city has managed this kind of meeting with Air Canada, according to Litke, who admitted they were in survival mode for the last couple of years and were just now free enough to begin re-establishing communication with the communities they serve.

“They brought the right people to the room. So we got a chance to talk about our issues and concerns, and frankly, with the people who are in a position to say let’s do some more work on this,” said Pennington.


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