Air Canada will be ceasing service to Penticton Regional Airport in early 2024, according to local politicians and stakeholders in the know.
South Okanagan-West Kootenay Member of Parliament Richard Cannings — long an advocate for greater connectivity and more flights at the airport — announced on social media that he heard the news Tuesday from Air Canada executives.
As of January 15, Air Canada will no longer fly to or from Penticton.
"This is a bad decision on so many levels — it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy when you reduce service, force more people to fly out of Kelowna, reduce service, repeat…" Cannings wrote on social media.
The Penticton & Wine Country Chamber of Commerce is also unhappy. They have drafted a letter to Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Transport Canada and Mr. Michael Rousseau, CEO of Air Canada, asking the decision to be reconsidered.
“We implore Air Canada to reconsider this decision and engage in discussions with local authorities, businesses, and residents to explore alternative solutions to mitigate whatever factors led Air Canada to this decision,” said Michael Magnusson, chamber executive director.
"We also call upon Air Canada to uphold its legacy as a national carrier that values the connectivity of remote and rural communities, especially in these challenging times.”
The chamber notes that as a city and region that relies heavily on tourism, Penticton and the South Okanagan will be negatively impacted by visitors having fewer viable ways to get in to town.
"Air Canada has been a vital link connecting Penticton and the Okanagan Valley to the rest of Canada and the world. The decision to cease operations in this region threatens to have far-reaching implications, both in the economic impact as well as accessibility and community isolation," said chamber president Nicole Clark.
Penticton MLA Dan Ashton noted that the Penticton airport doesn't just serve the city, but the wider South-Okanagan Similkameen and beyond into the Interior. It is also a vital lifeline when events like the recent Highway 97 rockslide take place.
"The ministry is working working hard to try and get [the highway] fixed but at some point in time, we could be cut off again from Kelowna and their airport. The Penticton airport, for the entire South Okanagan Similkameen area, is incredibly important, as are the airlines," Ashton said.
"And we all know those [planes] that are going out of Penticton are always quite full. And with all due respect to some of the smaller entities that have come in to try and service it, you do need a larger plane to serve as Vancouver from the South Okanagan-Similkameen."
Ashton echoed the call for Air Canada to walk back the decision.
"Penticton and area have been very good to Air Canada and I would hope that they would reconsider this and take a look and come to some form of agreement with the South Okanagan-Similkameen area about continuing their service."
Penticton Mayor Julius Bloomfield expressed his disappointment in a press release, promising to stay proactive.
"We have reached out to other airlines about opportunities and hope to meet in person at [the Union of British Columbia Municipalities] next week in Vancouver to discuss ideas. We are excited for the opportunity to forge new partnerships that support the entire region."
-With files from Casey Richardson