Neil Drachenberg
Airport Safety, Security and Emergency Preparedness
Kelowna International Airport


Kelowna International Airport (YLW) plays an important role in the prosperity of the Okanagan Valley. YLW’s total economic impact in 2010 was 2,730 jobs, representing $140 million in wages and $610 million in total economic output to the province of BC.

Established in 1946, the airport has seen many expansions and changes over the years, including a new terminal building, air traffic control tower and extended runway. The airport currently serves 1.4 million passengers annually and that figure is forecast to grow to 1.6 million by 2015. To accommodate this anticipated growth, the airport has a phased approach for new construction, to take place 2013-2016.

The City of Kelowna has a population of more than 118,000 and is the largest city in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, boasting internationally-acclaimed wineries, championship golf courses, mountains for skiers and lakes for boating, swimming or fishing.

Serving a vibrant tourist destination such as Kelowna, means being attentive and responsive to visitors and customers. Neil Drachenberg, Manager, Airport Safety, Security and Emergency Preparedness at YLW is responsible for the safety of visitors/passengers, and something more. Drachenberg wants to ensure that Kelowna’s visitors to have a positive impression of the city, beginning the moment they arrive at YLW, and throughout every point of contact at the airport.


  • Passengers per year: 1.44 million
  • Daily flights: 64
  • Established: 1946
  • City of Kelowna population: 118,500


Commissionaires have been working at YLW for more than 17 years – providing site security and access security. This means Commissionaires are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the airport’s perimeter, for patrolling the terminals and parking lots, performing gate checks, and enforcing the airport’s restricted areas.

In 2011, YLW’s management introduced a cultural shift for staff and contractors. “We took a hard look at ourselves and determined that we needed to be a more customer-focussed organization,” said Neil Drachenberg, Manager, Airport Safety, Security and Emergency Preparedness. “We didn’t know if Commissionaires would be part of that integral change, so we decided to put the contract out for proposals.”


Drachenberg explained, “When we looked at all of the different aspects of customer service we saw that customers were complaining about parking ticketing. It was seen as punitive.” Commissionaires took this information and developed a detailed plan – as part of their proposal – to address the concern. The plan involved greeting visitors, helping them and opening doors. Drachenberg said, “Commissionaires won the contract again and we implemented their plan. Complaints decreased and ticketing went down. Commissionaires have been highly adaptive.”

Drachenberg believes that security is a difficult task to perform, especially telling people they are not allowed to do something, and delivering that message in a positive way.

“Initially, Commissionaires were the most reliable place to turn for security services. However, they provided not only the best proposal for security, but also for customer service.” Drachenberg explained that the turning point in the proposal was how the Commissionaires introduced quality assurance checks and audits to provide future cost savings and ongoing high standards of customer care.


“Commissionaires help us keep customers – they’re more of a partner and they have been doing this for a long time. When we challenged them to be an even better partner, they rose to the challenge,” said Drachenberg. He added that he has been very pleased to see Commissionaires proactively suggesting improvements and efficiency improvements.

“As a partner, Commissionaires will grow with us. We’re in a multi-phased expansion at the airport now and they are an integral part of that facility expansion,” said Drachenberg.

Drachenberg also commented on Commissionaires productivity. “We receive exceptional productivity from Commissionaires. They’re really engaged. It’s a perfect blend for us at YLW because we have people here who love working at an airport. They even come in on their days off to volunteer with our Airport Ambassador program. That’s how committed they are.”

The Airport Ambassador program is run by volunteers who want to promote the Okanagan area, and there’s a waiting list to join. The volunteers, who include Commissionaires, greet visitors at the airport and help them in any way they can. Said Drachenberg, “We receive reports of how helpful our ambassadors are and that includes participating Commissionaires. One in particular, a Commissionaire, provided exceptional assistance to a woman who arrived at the airport with children, baggage, and strollers in tow. She needed help unloading everything, but was concerned about receiving a parking ticket while she did so. Our Commissionaire/ambassador helped her and made sure her visit was smooth and stress free.”

“They’re a key part of our business because they interact with customers from the moment our visitors arrive curbside throughout their experience at YWL. We’re very pleased that Commissionaires had the flexibility to join us in making a culture shift toward superior customer service. They truly are our partners, concluded Drachenberg.