WestJet suspends Fort McMurray to Kelowna service amid oil slump

WestJet is suspending its service from Fort McMurray to Kelowna, as workers report "scary slow" times at the northern Alberta airport due to the economic downturn.

Latest blow to Fort McMurray airport, which has lost several key flights

Fort McMurray's new airport terminal has seen a substantial drop in passengers as the city loses direct flights and is getting fewer charters. (Briar Stewart/CBC News)

WestJet is suspending its service from Fort McMurray to Kelowna, as workers report "scary slow" times at the northern Alberta airport due to the economic downturn.

The Kelowna flight, which was scheduled five times a week, will end starting Feb. 15, Fort McMurray airport president Scott Clements told CBC News.

Service between Fort McMurray and Red Deer has already been cancelled, along with a daily flight to Denver, and the airport's flight to Mexico.

'Suspended,' not cancelled

We went from seeing 10 planes a day, down to one plane a day.- Dave Bellew, Airport worker

Oil workers would regularly fly in from Kelowna, but with so many jobs lost and oil below $30 US a barrel, there isn't enough demand, airport officials say.

"[WestJet is] not using the term 'cease,' they're just using 'suspended' because there's 35,000 trips a year of workers coming back and forth," Clements said.

"When the trigger happens and the economy turns around, that flight will be re-established, we're assured by WestJet," he added.

Fort McMurray's $250-million airport terminal opened in 2014. 

While more than one million people passed through the terminal last year, passenger numbers are down 16 per cent. 

'Scary slow'

Fort McMurray airport president Scott Clements says he remains confident things will turn around. (Fort McMurray Airport Authority)

The biggest drop occurred with charter flights, where numbers were down 50 per cent.

"The amount of volume and traffic is just non-existent," said ground handler Dave Bellew, who works on the non-commercial side.

"We went from seeing 10 planes a day, down to one plane a day, if that. It's scary slow," he added.

​Clements says, at the moment, it's a matter of weathering the downturn.

"We can pretty much survive at even another 10 per cent downturn without doing anything crazy, like raising our rates and charges," said Clements.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.