Kelowna airport celebrates new routes

Thu Dec 20, 2012 10:00am PST

Kelowna International Airport welcomed its first direct flight from Los Angeles yesterday – a United Airlines flight that capped a year of expansion for the airport.

In April, the airport welcomed North Western Air's twice-weekly direct service to Red Deer as well as new seasonal WestJet flights to Phoenix and Los Angeles.

Previously, Kelowna residents had no direct route to California.

Ski resort operators told Business in Vancouver earlier this year that they were excited about the increase in service because it meant Alaska Airlines no longer had a monopoly on the market via their Kelowna-to-L.A. flight that stops in Seattle.

Obtaining the United Airlines flights took more than four years of negotiations.

Michael Ballingall, who is senior vice-president at Big White Ski Resort and at Silver Star resort, together with other resort operators and representatives at Tourism Kelowna, originally lobbied for a direct flight to San Francisco because they thought getting gate space at LAX would be impossible.

United then bought Continental Airlines in a US$3.17 billion all-stock deal in 2010, creating the world's largest air carrier.

Management shakeups followed, forcing Ballingall's team to restart lobby efforts and sell a new set of executives on the idea of flying to Kelowna.

Those new executives eventually calculated passenger projections for San Francisco and Los Angeles and determined that the flights to Los Angeles would make money from day one, Ballingall said.

"The decision and the timing was based around business, not tourism," he said.

Large Kelowna employers such as Walt Disney Co. (NYSE:DIS), which in 2007 paid $350 million to buy the Kelowna-founded virtual reality game Club Penguin, will also benefit from direct flights to Tinseltown.


Tags: Kelowna, Club Penguin, tourism, Disney, WestJet

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