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Kelowna or bust

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 25/05) - An NWT air carrier is expanding its scheduled service into B.C.

On June 17, Northwestern Air Lease Ltd. will add Kelowna to its current twice-a-week round trips between Yellowknife to Grande Prairie.

"It's taking it a step further," said Gordon Bush, the general manager of the Fort Smith-based company. "We believe there's a lot of traffic between Grande Prairie and Kelowna."

The flights go on Mondays and Fridays.

Northwestern began operating the flight between Yellowknife and Grande Prairie in early April with a 19-seat Jetstream 31.

"Passenger numbers right now are minimal," he said, noting they fluctuate quite a bit.

A bad day sees seven or eight passengers, and the flight has not yet been full, he said.

He said it will take six months to a year to accurately gauge the demand, and he expects numbers to rise during the summer vacation period.

As for Grande Prairie to Kelowna, he expects it will be very popular with retirees in the B.C. city, many of whom have relatives in Grande Prairie or the North. Going in the other direction, Kelowna is also a tourist destination.

Bush notes both WestJet and Air Canada offer service between Grande Prairie and Kelowna.

"The down-side is they go through Edmonton and Calgary, so it's twice as long," he said.

The company may go even further by adding more southern destinations, but Bush said no plans have been finalized yet.