Air service between Red Deer and Kelowna grounded by Transport Canada

Passenger air service between Red Deer Airport and Kelowna, B.C., has been grounded by Transport Canada, at least for now.

Carolyn Brown and Greg Sincock of Simi Valley

Carolyn Brown and Greg Sincock of Simi Valley

Passenger air service between Red Deer Airport and Kelowna, B.C., has been grounded by Transport Canada, at least for now.

Northwestern Air Lease Ltd. planned to offer direct flights between Red Deer and Kelowna, starting on Friday, with service to and from the British Columbia city on Fridays and Sundays.

But Northwestern announced on Tuesday that it has had to postpone the startup of the service until early next year. It cited “operational requirements issued by Transport Canada” as the reason.

“It’s hugely frustrating,” said Gordon Bush, Northwestern’s general manager.

He said Northwestern officials thought they had satisfied all of the federal department’s requirements related to the route. But on Monday, a Transport Canada official asked for additional information.

The airline is in the process of meeting this request, but is uncertain when the matter will now be resolved.

“Yesterday we had to make a decision,” said Bush.

As a result, the start of service between Red Deer and Kelowna is being postponed until early next year. Passengers who had already booked tickets will receive refunds.

Bush said the problem relates to the challenges of flying into a mountain community like Kelowna.

Several years ago, he said, Transport Canada raised concerns about Northwestern flying to Kelowna from Grande Prairie. The carrier responded by engaging a performance engineer and supplying information that confirmed the suitability of its Jetstream 32 airplanes for the route.

“We personally cannot see why he needs further information,” said Bush of the inspector’s latest request.

Red Deer Airport CEO RJ Steenstra said he’s disappointed by the turn of events.

“It’s unfortunate Transport (Canada) has come in at the 11th hour here.”

Steenstra said the airport will continue to support Northwestern in its efforts to establish the new route. In the meantime, he’s investigating the impact that the delay could have on Red Deer Airport’s eligibility for Airports Capital Assistance Program funding — a federal grant available to airports that offer scheduled passenger air service.

Red Deer Airport has been without passenger service since Swanberg Air Inc. ceased operations there in early September.

The airplane that Northwestern plans to fly between Red Deer and Kelowna is already at the local airport and will be used for charter service, said Bush.

He said previously that the frequency of flights between the Springbrook-based airport and Kelowna could increase if demand warrants, and that extension of the service to Abbotsford, B.C., is being considered.

Northwestern is based in Fort Smith, N.W.T. It previously flew out of the Red Deer Airport from December 2006 until July 2010.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com