Travelling to Kelowna, Prince George and the Yukon is getting easier.
Air North has launched weekly charter flights from Nanaimo Airport to Watson Lake, Yukon via Kelowna and Prince George using an older model Boeing 737.
Benjamin Ryan, chief commercial officer with Air North, said charter flights began last week. He said the flights will depart and return to Nanaimo on Thursdays.
“The flight pattern has a plane going from Nanaimo to Kelowna to Prince George and up to Waston Lake,” he said. “The flight will go both directions on the same day and it is just a weekly service at this point.”
However, Air North plans to convert the route from a charter service to regular weekly year-round passenger service within a matter of weeks, according to Ryan.
“We need to confirm with all the airports that we have regulatory approval,” he said, adding that the airline is hoping to receive approval from Transport Canada sooner rather than later.
Switching to regular passenger service would give Air North the ability to sell seats to the general public on the route, meaning travellers could fly non-stop from Nanaimo to Kelowna International Airport, which is the second-busiest airport in British Columbia.
“Practically speaking, it would allow someone from Nanaimo to go to Kelowna for the day on business or to do one-way travel once a week,” he said.
Ryan said the decision to launch flights was due to growing demand from the business community on Vancouver Island for quicker travel to the Okanagan, northern B.C. and the Yukon. He said since service began, the airline has received a flurry of inquiries from curious potential travellers.
“We’ve definitely got a lot of feedback and interest from people on the Island and in the north about having service to Nanaimo,” he said. “It has been a bit of an eye-opener.”
While Air North has previously operated one-time charter flights to Nanaimo – including bringing B.C. Summer Games athletes to Vancouver Island last summer – this is the first time the airline has ever had scheduled service to Nanaimo in any capacity.
“This is is our first major program through Nanaimo, so it is an opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the airport and with that particular market,” Ryan said. “[The flight] is going to give us the chance to learn how to operate into Nanaimo on a year-round basis and we are really excited about that.”
Air North currently operates flights from Yellowknife to Victoria International Airport with stops in either Vancouver or Kelowna and Ryan said that route has been successful. If there is demand, he said, frequency could increase on the Nanaimo route.
“If we get more feedback from business community and the community on the Island and folks in the north maybe there is justification for another frequency or two a week but the Boeing 737 is a pretty big aircraft, though, for that market,” he said.
Mike Hooper, Nanaimo airport president and CEO, said Air North’s decision is good news for the region. He said the airport is continuing to work with Air North in order to get the company ready for regular passenger service.
“We’re hoping they have a scheduled flight set up by September and we are working with them to do that,” he said.
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