Penticton prepares to make pitch to WestJet

City officials will meet with company executives to discuss bring airline service to Penticton

Penticton’s intensive campaign to get the attention of WestJet executives has resulted in an invitation to come to Calgary and present the region’s case in person.

It will be a very good presentation, said Penticton’s Mayor Dan Ashton, though he is reluctant to give out any details of what might be contained in it, other than the area, the people, the opportunities and why WestJet should have been here years ago.

“We have so much to offer,” said Ashton, listing off the many opportunities in the South Okanagan and the quality of life. “That is, bar none, one of the best in Canada.”

When news broke about WestJet’s plans to create a new regional service, the City of Penticton and other South Okanagan stakeholders started campaigning through every channel they could, including Twitter, Facebook and a flash mob at the airport, which was made into a promotional video and distributed via YouTube. So far, that video has received more than 11,000 hits.

According to city manager Annette Antoniak, the meeting is tentatively scheduled for June 28, and they are planning to make a 30-minute presentation to the WestJet executives.

Ashton said there is lots of work being done behind the scenes to get ready. They have already sent out letters requesting support from municipalities, regional districts and Indian bands throughout the South Okanagan Similkameen. An airport survey/study has also been done, and the statistics and results drawn from that will also be ready for the presentation.

Ashton is careful to refer to the South Okanagan when talking about the WestJet presentation; it is, he said, something that is important to the development of the region as a whole, not just Penticton.

And while Jazz is doing a good job providing service, Ashton thinks competition is healthy and there is a need for direct connections to Calgary and beyond.

“I think it’s important that Jazz or WestJet have a look at that,” said Ashton.

“There are many opportunities here and there has been a dramatic increase in population since Pacific Western stopped serving the area.”

There are, he continued, a significant number of people from Alberta and other locales that maintain vacation homes in the region, as well as a number of people who work in the oil sands.

“Why not have your home here and commute to work?” asked Ashton, pointing out that there are people who do just that from eastern Canada, and the South Okanagan has much more to offer. “A regional carrier should be looking at all these possibilities. Just take a look at Osoyoos.”

There are some private companies that have recognized the possibilities of Penticton’s small airport, including, Ashton said, a specialty charter service using a small jet to bring tourists in for boutique wine tours.

“Quick and reliable air service can make all the difference,” said Ashton.

Penticton isn’t alone in receiving an invitation. Brandon, Man., who have also been making a very public pitch, is also headed to Calgary, along with several other communities.

WestJet executives have said, via Twitter, that the plan is to launch the regional service with a few aircraft in a limited number of cities in late 2013, then build out the network and fleet over five years.