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Air Canada announced on Jan. 13 that due to new pre-departure COVID-19 testing requirements, lockdowns and travel restrictions, it will be forced to further reduce its first quarter capacity by 25 percent, resulting in a workforce reduction of roughly 1,700 employees. This is in addition to the over 200 impacted employees at Air Canada’s Express carriers.
“Since the implementation by the federal and provincial governments of these increased travel restrictions and other measures, in addition to the existing quarantine requirements, we have seen an immediate impact to our close-in bookings,” Lucie Guillemette, executive vice president and CCO at Air Canada said in a statement.
On Jan. 7, 2021, new air travel restrictions were implemented, requiring all passengers over the age of five to test negative for COVID-19 before traveling from another country to Canada. Those authorized to enter Canada must also complete a 14-day quarantine.
On the heels of WestJet’s Jan. 8 announcement that it suspended more routes and cut 1,000 employees, Air Canada made the “difficult but necessary decision” to follow suit by further adjusting its schedule, including the reduction of transborder, Caribbean and domestic routes “to better reflect expected demand” and “reduce cash burn.”
“We regret the impact these difficult decisions will have on our employees who have worked very hard during the pandemic looking after our customers, as well as on the affected communities,” said Guillemette.
The Atlantic Canada Airports Association also received notice from Air Canada that effective Jan. 23, the airline will be suspending all service until further notice in Gander and Goose Bay, Newfoundland, and Fredericton, New Brunswick.
Air Canada will reduce approximately 25 percent of its capacity for the first quarter of 2021. As a result of the reduction, the Montreal-based airline will be operating at roughly 20 percent compared to the first quarter of 2019.
Guillemette admitted this is not the news she was hoping to announce. “We are nonetheless encouraged that Health Canada has already approved two vaccines and that the Government of Canada expects the vast majority of eligible Canadians to be vaccinated by September.”
In December 2020, Air Canada announced it was suspending all flights in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Saint John, New Brunswick, indefinitely, as well as four Atlantic routes until further notice in Deer Lake, Newfoundland, and Charlottetown, Fredericton and Halifax. This news came five months after the airline indefinitely suspended 11 routes in the Atlantic region, and closed its stations in Bathurst, New Brunswick, and Wabush, Newfoundland.
“This is the fourth round of air service cuts in our region in 10 months,” said Monette Pasher, executive director of the Atlantic Canada Airports Association. “Government imposed travel restrictions federally and provincially are severely impacting the air sector right now. Government is telling us to stay home . . . but the reality is our sector needs financial support to get through this time to support the essential service airlines and airports provide.”
Air Canada said it will continue to adjust routes in response to government-imposed travel restrictions. “We look forward to seeing our business start to return to normal and to bringing back some of our more than 20,000 employees currently on furlough and layoff,” concluded Guillemette.
Canada’s airline industry continues to face a lack of financial aid to the sector. The appointment of a new Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra, and other changes to the Federal Ministry provide hope that assistance could be forthcoming.