Even though Penticton wasn’t on the list of new routes announced this week for both WestJet and its new regional carrier, Encore, Mayor Garry Litke said the South Okanagan still stands to benefit.
The list of new flights for Encore includes new routes between Fort McMurray and Kelowna, and Fort McMurray and Vancouver as part of the largest single increase of flights to Fort McMurray since WestJet first began service to the area.
“Anything they can do to bring people to the Okanagan is going to benefit all of us. With a new flight to Fort McMurray out of Kelowna, that makes it more feasible for people to live in Summerland and Penticton as well,” said Litke, adding Penticton is aggressively pursuing commuters to and from the oil fields, with advertising in both Peace River and Fort McMurray.
“The subtext is we know you have to work here but you could be raising your family in Penticton,” said Litke, adding that Penticton still has hopes of enticing Encore to offer direct flights out of the city’s airport.
“Would I have liked to have a WestJet flight to Penticton? Of Course, but the WestJet executives make their decision based on numbers,” he said. “They have seen that corridor from Fort Mac to Kelowna as a profitable one, but I think we can all benefit from it.”
The campaign for Penticton Airport continues, however. Litke and a team from the city met with WestJet late last year, pointing out that West Kelowna is closer to Penticton than to Kelowna’s airport.
“They seemed intrigued by that and as a result we ended up talking for almost two hours about bringing a WestJet flight here, but we are in competition with other similar size communities in Quebec and Ontario,” he said. “The other thing this announcement out of Kelowna might do is might make Air Canada pay more attention to the fact they are losing customers by not being competitive, that they need to improve their service for everyone in the South Okanagan.”
Litke added the city is also looking into the possibility of recruiting a private charter service to fly out of the Penticton airport.
“There seems to be a good business case for a private charter to set up business here and offer flights to Calgary and Fort McMurray,” he said.