01/19/2016 12:08 EST | Updated 01/19/2017 00:12 EST

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.

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 only international flight, which was to Mexico.

'Suspended,' not cancelled

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'

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.