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The Atlantic Canada Airports Association (ACAA) was advised on Dec. 8 of more service cuts and station closures by Air Canada, which are to take effect beginning Jan. 11, 2021.
The Canadian flag carrier is suspending all flights in Sydney, N.S., and Saint John, N.B., indefinitely, and is suspending four Atlantic routes until further notice in Deer Lake, N.L., Charlottetown, Fredericton and Halifax, according to an ACAA press release.
The ACAA noted the second wave of COVID-19 infections “is piling added pressure on a sector on the verge of collapse.”
The announcement from Air Canada comes roughly five months after the airline indefinitely suspended 11 routes in the Atlantic region, and closed its stations in Bathurst, N.B., and Wabush, N.L.
As well, WestJet made a similar announcement in October, indefinitely suspending operations to Moncton, Fredericton, Sydney, and Charlottetown, and reducing service to Halifax and St. John’s, as of Nov. 2. WestJet’s Atlantic service cuts elimated more than 100 flights weekly, or almost 80 per cent of seat capacity.
“This is the third major round of cuts to air service for our region in the last six months,” said Derrick Stanford, president of the ACAA and CEO of Saint John Airport. “Service has been whittled down to an unsustainable level for our airports. Our industry cannot survive and operate in these conditions, and we are seeing the worst-case scenario playing out here today.
“This will have a huge impact on our region’s economy, on the ability of families to reconnect, on the movement of essential workers, and on airport employees and businesses,” he added.
The ACAA reiterated that the industry has been calling for support from the federal government for Canada’s airlines “for months now.” The Canadian government on Nov. 30 released its Fall Economic Statement 2020, which announced additional support for regional air carriers and airports, but left out plans for the nation’s major airlines.
The list of service cuts announced in the latter half of this year could signal “the end of some of our small regional airports if solutions are not found,” the ACAA warned.
For some smaller airports, station closures are even more detrimental than service cuts, the ACAA said, adding that the result would “further fracture the viability of people who need to efficiently move in and out of these communities.”
While a COVID-19 vaccine is on the horizon for Canada, industry experts say it could take up to a year for the majority of the population to be vaccinated, and “this sector cannot wait that long to begin recovery,” said Monette Pasher, executive director of the ACAA.
“The biggest reason for today’s cuts is a combination of the domestic travel restrictions unique to our region and rising COVID cases across the country, which understandably, impacts demand,” Pasher added.
The ACAA is calling for testing pilot programs at Atlantic Canada airports, “to better understand the level of COVID-19 in our communities and help rebuild consumer confidence in this sector.”