You had less than a 50-50 chance of landing at Castlegar airport last December… though its landing rate is almost 100 per cent for six months of the year. (File photo)

Tour company plans shuttle service to Kelowna for stranded travellers

SMT Kootenay wants to help travellers get in and out of ‘Cancelgar’ in winter months

A tourism company is hoping to take the sting out of cancelled flights out of Castlegar.

SMT Kootenay is starting a shuttle service that will operate on days that flights into or out of Castlegar are delayed or cancelled.

“Everyone has a cancellation story,” says Sakiko Covington, a spokesperson for SMT Kootenay. “I moved to Castlegar seven years ago, I had a 15-month-old baby. I was stuck in Vancouver with my baby because my flight to Castlegar was cancelled.”

Then Covington saw her father-in-law, who worked at Selkirk College, having to drive regularly over the mountain passes in the winter.

“He would have to drive to Kelowna to get to Vancouver or Victoria several times a month, because he had to be at those meetings,” she said.

Covington told her story to her boss at Solace Mountain Tours, a bus and tour company based out of Banff. He was looking for new opportunities, she said, and started researching the opportunities created by all those winter cancellations.

Fast forward nearly a year, and with the licensing in place, SMT Kootenay is ready to begin business.

Shuttle service is expected to begin before the end of the month.

“The flights from Vancouver are usually at 9:15,” says Covington. “So if that flight is cancelled in the morning, you can book a trip on our 12-person mini-bus, which departs at 10:30.”

The shuttle will arrive at the Kelowna airport around 2 or 3 p.m., allowing travellers to pick up flights from there. People trying to get to Castlegar can also pick up the SMT bus at that airport, and return to the Kootenays.

A one-way ticket costs $138.

SMT also plans to provide a bus to the Cranbrook airport as well, but planning for that one is still in the works.

While basing a business on the chance of bad weather seems a bit risky, it’s not so risky in the Castlegar airport’s case.

While the airport has a landing and takeoff success rate of nearly 100 per cent from May to October, in winter the rate drops dramatically with the cloud cover.

In November, February and March of 2017, the airport only had a 60 per cent chance of having a flight land. That dropped to 49 per cent for December 2017. In other words, you had less than a 50-50 chance of landing at the airport that month.

But SMT Kootenay’s buses won’t stand idle during those fine flying days of spring, summer and fall. The company wants to start tours of the Okanagan and Kootenays catering to Japanese tourists in the new year.

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