Flights from Red Deer to Kelowna begin April 20

Flight delays are a common frustration in the aviation industry. But the wait Gordon Bush has endured is exceptional.

Flight delays are a common frustration in the aviation industry. But the wait Gordon Bush has endured is exceptional.

The general manager of Northwestern Air Lease Ltd. has spent the past several months trying to secure regulatory approval for his company to fly between Red Deer and Kelowna, B.C. The scheduled passenger service was supposed to begin Nov. 18 but had to be postponed because of unexpected Transport Canada requirements.

On Tuesday, Northwestern Air and the Red Deer Airport announced that service between Red Deer and Kelowna will now commence on April 20. A 19-seater Jetstream 32 aircraft will depart from Red Deer at 8 a.m. on Fridays and 4 p.m. on Sundays, and arrive back from Kelowna at 11 a.m. on Fridays and 7 p.m. on Sundays. Flights will be about 75 minutes in duration.

One-way fares, including all fees and taxes, start at $228.90 said Bush.

He expressed frustration with the delay, explaining that Transport Canada wanted assurances that the Jetstream is suitable for the mountainous route.

Northwestern Air spent thousands of dollars proving its case.

“This company has a very good safety record, and we don’t do anything that’s unsafe,” stressed Bush.

It’s unfortunate that Northwestern Air, which is based in Fort Smith, N.W.T., will miss the Easter travel period, he said. But it now has time to promote its new service prior to summer.

“We know that we’re going to run some sparsely occupied flights,” said Bush of the startup period.

But he’s convinced that people who try the service will continue to use it.

“The biggest push, I think, is really convenience.”

Red Deer Airport CEO RJ Steenstra is optimistic that Central Albertans will take advantage of the free parking and quick check-in times that the local airport offers.

“We’ve continually received calls from interested people asking for flights to the Okanagan Valley and elsewhere.

“It’s important to realize that Kelowna is a hub for the Central B.C. region. From Kelowna, you can go to destinations south, you can go north, you can go further west.”

Steenstra warned that Central Albertans must use Northwestern Air’s service if they want the company to remain.

“If it’s not viable, then they will reallocate that plane just as easily as they put it in.”

Bush expressed optimism about his company’s new route, even suggesting that more flights will be added if demand warrants. That could include service to Abbotsford and another B.C. city that he doesn’t want to disclose at this time.

“This would feed back into the Red Deer hub, which hopefully will increase in size,” said Bush.

Northwestern Air, which offered passenger service out of the Red Deer Airport from December 2006 until July 2010, currently provides charter service there. Bush said that business has been doing well, and the fact a plane and crew will now be based at the Red Deer Airport should help.

Steenstra said the Red Deer Airport Authority continues to pursue other regional carriers, and additional routes.

“Fort McMurray is one that’s on the list, as well as Vancouver, or the Vancouver area.”

It’s also coaxing WestJet to fly out of the Red Deer Airport, especially after the Calgary-based company announced in January that it plans to set up a regional short-haul airline.

“We’ve made our interest known and obviously we want to be on the radar,” said Steenstra. “I’m just working through the business case right now and will be looking to present something to them — certainly by early summer, if not late spring.”

For additional information about Northwestern Air Lease’s new Red Deer-Kelowna passenger service or to make a reservation, call 1-877-872-2216 or go to the company’s website at www.nwal.com.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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