While Penticton is still hoping to make the top of the list in January when WestJet announces the locations for its new regional carrier, they are not letting Air Canada slip off the radar.
Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton visited Air Canada’s head offices in Montreal this week, in what he describes as a “very short and very efficient trip” to make the case for expanding not only their current service between Penticton and Vancouver, but the possibility of adding service to Calgary.
“We were able to sit down with Air Canada and discuss all their flights, including additional services to the west and hopefully to the east,” said Ashton. “There are gaps in the system, not only identified by us, but also identified by Air Canada, and that was part of the discussions that came forward.”
Ashton was joined in the meetings by city manager Annette Antoniak, but also Jim Meyer of SNC-Lavalin, who produced a report earlier this year detailing the potential of the Penticton Airport.
“Air Canada was very receptive, because of the new information provided by the City of Penticton and a very good report provided by SNC-Lavalin,” said Ashton, who met with two of the airline’s senior route planners. With changes already in the works, he was told there may be an opportunity as early as next summer to address the Vancouver service, including a more convenient return flight in the evening.
“There could be an additional flight at a good time for the travelling public to not only meet international flights but also for those conducting business or meetings in Vancouver,” said Ashton, adding that he also has hopes for a Calgary service.
According to Penticton airport manager Dave Allen, the potential for a regular service to Calgary isn’t in doubt. When Pacific Coastal Airlines tried it in 2007, it was more logistical problems that forced them to end it, rather than a lack of passengers.
“They offered one flight a day at noon. It is surprising how well it did for just one flight a day. That lasted a year and they took about 20,000 passengers,” said Allen, adding that the Penticton airport currently serves about 80,000 travellers per year.
However, Allen thinks that Air Canada is more likely to be able to provide such a service, since they already have Air Canada Jazz based at the airport.
“They just have to find a plane, dust it off and fly it. WestJet would have to form a base here,” said Allen. “It would be a little more costly for them, but they claim that with this new regional airline they are putting out, they are going to form bases all over Canada to feed their network.”
During the year-long campaign to bring WestJet to Penticton, Ashton has often commented that Jazz has been doing a good job, at the same time making the case that increasing competition is not a bad thing.
“Competition is your best customer,” said Ashton. “A decision with WestJet is not coming until January and we were talking (with Air Canada) about additional time slots in the day to the west. However, Calgary did come up and the opportunities involved with the connections to Calgary.
“It can’t just be a single flight, you need two flights a day and the appropriate times.”
Allen agrees with that concept, saying that though Coastal made a noon flight work, the ideal times were morning and afternoon.
“In and out in the morning, in and out at night covers your day,” said Allen.
He isn’t sure, though, that there is enough traffic to support both WestJet and Air Canada.
“If WestJet came here, they are not going to set up a base here just to fly to Calgary. They are also going to fly to Vancouver. One will price the other out and we will be left with just one,” he said, though he admitted that WestJet does have a reputation of increasing traffic in areas where they start up.