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Kamloops Airport flying into an optimistic future

The Kamloops Airport has engaged in more social media to keep connected with travellers, navigated the COVID-19 pandemic with more virtual options and is expecting a return to pre-pandemic passenger numbers by 2024 as restrictions ease in the industr
Kamloops Airport aearial
A bird's-eye view of Kamloops Airport, with Kamloops Lake in the background.

The Kamloops Airport has engaged in more social media to keep connected with travellers, navigated the COVID-19 pandemic with more virtual options and is expecting a return to pre-pandemic passenger numbers by 2024 as restrictions ease in the industry.

YKA manager Ed Ratuski said the pandemic heightened the importance of timely, accurate information and there’s been a noted increase in requests from the public regarding the many, rapidly changing requirements for air travellers.

As a result, airport staff have been sharing information via social media on an almost daily basis, Ratuski said.

“Whenever there’s updates posted by health agencies or the federal government we ensure those are posted on our website and through social media as well,” Ratuski said.

During the pandemic years the airport has also taken the opportunity to advance digital technologies.

One example of this is enabling visitors to pay for airport parking directly via smartphone rather than at pay stations within the building, removing the need for customers to touch the same surfaces.

“We [also] encourage travellers to use the airlines’ online tools whenever possible to improve the efficiency of check-in and the need for contact with personnel,” Ratuski said.

YKA has also introduced electrostatic sanitizing sprayers in its terminals and real-time monitoring of passenger flows to ensure physical distancing is maintained at security checkpoints during the pandemic.

While airports like YKA have experienced large drops in passenger numbers the past few years due to COVID-19 restrictions, recovery is in sight.

“2022 is going to be our first full year of recovery from the impacts of the pandemic as far as we know right now,” Ratuski said.

The Omicron variant was a setback in that recovery at the end of 2021, but Ratuski hopes the recent lifting of travel restrictions will help spur passenger numbers.

“We know there’s a pent up demand for both leisure travel and travel to reconnect with friends and family,” he said.

While cautiously optimistic about a rebound, Ratuski said YKA is taking conservative approach organizationally. At the start of the pandemic airport staff was reduced by half, but as traveller numbers rebound, those stats will be the barometer for how quickly staff are returned to pre-pandmeic levels.

Prior to Omicron, the Kamloops Airport experienced a surge in passengers for the 2021 holiday season, seeing about 80 per cent of the number of travellers that passed through for Christmas 2019 — which was just months before the pandemic was declared.

Those numbers, however, were inflated by the floods in November 2021 that knocked out roads to the Lower Mainland, Ratuski noted.

But even with those highways now reopened, YKA  has seen about 60 per cent of its 2019 passenger counts in early 2022.

Parity with pre-pandemic levels 2019 is expected in two years’ timeby 2024.

In 2019, the Kamloops Airport saw approximately 362,000 passengers. At the end of 2021, there were only 104,000 and by the end of this year, the forecast is 200,000.

“Just over half of where we were at the end of 2019,” Ratuski said.