WestJet is big-time bullish on Kelowna.
This summer the airline is launching three new, year-round, non-stop flights between Kelowna International Airport and Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatoon.
Flight frequency to WestJet's hub and hometown of Calgary from Kelowna will increase to 52 weekly so you can connect to long-haul destinations such as Tokyo, Barcelona, Edinburgh, London (both Heathrow and Gatwick), Paris, Rome and Dublin.
This, as WestJet will next month wrap up seasonal, non-stops from Kelowna to sun destinations Phoenix, Cabo San Lucas, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta and continues all its regularly scheduled direct service to Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto.
"This summer, WestJet will increase seat capacity in and out of Kelowna International Airport by 28%," said WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech when he dropped by Kelowna airport for a news conference today.
"We are Kelowna's No. 1 airline, handling half to two-thirds of the passenger capacity in and out of Kelowna airport."
That means 50-66% of the two million passengers who fly in and out of Kelowna airport this year will do so on a WestJet plane.
Kelowna airport and the City of Kelowna are well aware of WestJet's prowess and importance.
"WestJet is a highly valuable partner," said Kelowna Mayor Tom Dyas, who met the WestJet CEO at the airport for the news conference.
"WestJet is an important contributor to the tourism, visiting friends and relatives and business markets that rely on air access."
When WestJet started 27 years ago, it had only three planes and was very much a Western Canada-only carrier serving Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
Just prior to WestJet coming to the city, the metropolitan population was 135,000 and the airport handled about 600,000 passengers a year.
Now, metro Kelowna has a population of 235,000 and the 2023 passenger count projection for the airport is more than two million.
WestJet's energy and investment and ambitious growth plans can take credit for much of the airport growth and some of the city's growth.
WestJet also has its planes maintained and retrofitted at KF Aerospace (formerly Kelowna Flightcraft) which has operations adjacent to the airport.
"This is just the start," said the WestJet CEO of the airline's tie-ins to Kelowna.
"We will have more flights, more year-round flights and more destinations."
While von Hoensbroech didn't want to elaborate, he said WestJet has on its radar a possible flight from Kelowna to Seattle or another American city.
Alaska Airlines is suspending its daily flight between Kelowna and Seattle for the summer.
Kelowna airport director Sam Samaddar was also at the news conference and praised WestJet for helping the airport and the regional economy grow.
Kelowna airport bats well above its weight as a regional airport that serves the entire Southern Interior with flights on 10 airlines to 19 destinations.
Kelowna is the 19th largest metro area in Canada, yet, it has the 9th busiest airport in the country.
WestJet's purchase of Sunwing was recently approved.
von Hoensbroech said the two airlines will continue to operate as separate brands for now, but some sort of integration would take place in the future.
He said the acquisition will result overall in more planes going to more destinations more often.
Sunwing is operating this season at Kelowna airport with non-stop flights to Mazatlan.
In the past, Sunwing has offered Kelowna's only ever non-stop to Cuba.
Kelowna was von Hoensbroech's first stop in a tour of airports in Western Canada where the airline is also growing -- Victoria, Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg.
Kelowna airport is just about to embark on its largest and most expensive expansion ever.
The first phase of the $90 million project will see a bigger departures lounge with more gates, better access to jet bridges and planes and more food and drink options and more security screening so you can clear security quicker.