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Air Transat is the latest Canadian airline to announce it will be suspending flight operations as a direct result of the global COVID-19 outbreak.
The Montreal-based carrier said in a March 18 statement that sales for departures will be halted immediately to and from most European and U.S. destinations, though the airline will still be operating repatriation flights over the next two weeks as it slowly grounds all of its aircraft. Sales between Canada and destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico will be halted effective immediately.
Repatriation routes will still be operated from both ways between Montreal and Lisbon and Paris, and between Toronto and London and Lisbon during that two-week window. After these have concluded, Transat said international operations will be shut down until at least April 30.
The company cited Canada’s decision to close its border to foreign nationals, as well as similar decisions from other countries, as the driving factor in its decision to suspend operations.
“This is an unprecedented situation, beyond our control, which is forcing us to briefly suspend all of our flights to contribute to the effort to fight the pandemic, protect our customers and employees and safeguard the company,” said Transat president and CEO Jean-Marc Eustache in a statement. “We are doing everything we can so that this has as little impact as possible on our employees and customers, whom we will make sure to bring back home.”
Along with the suspension of its flights, Transat also announced it will be introducing measure to reduce staffing — these measures will include temporary layoffs and reduction of work time or salaries.
Also on March 18, Porter Airlines said it will be temporarily suspending all flights starting on Friday, March 20, with plans to resume service on June 1. However, Porter said in its statement that it is “prepared to help recovery efforts by operating flights to support the movement of government officials, public health requirements and economic recovery efforts.”
Porter also said it will be forced to make temporary layoffs to reduce the economic impact the COVID-19 outbreak is making on its business.
These announcements come only a couple of days after Sunwing cancelled all of its southbound flights between March 17 and April 9 to focus on repatriating Canadians. Sunwing also announced on March 17 that it cannot confirm when commercial southern flight operations will resume.
“That is why Sunwing was forced to communicate layoffs to our flight and cabin crew members yesterday evening,” said Sunwing Airlines president Mark Williams in a statement. “Our pilots and flight attendants play a crucial role in our operations and this was not a decision that we took lightly. Once we have confirmation on a return to service date of our southbound flights, we fully intend to recall our flight and cabin crew members. These are incredibly difficult decisions to make. But the circumstances we face are dire and we must take action to ensure the long-term viability of our business.”
Williams said Sunwing is actively seeking government support under these exceptional circumstances.
On March 16, WestJet also announced it would be suspending all transborder flights for a 30-day period beginning March 22.
“In addition, we will also reduce our domestic schedule by approximately 50 per cent,” said WestJet president and CEO Ed Sims in an online statement.” At this point, all network changes are in place for the next 30 days.”
As airlines worldwide suspend operations as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, the aviation industry is appealing to the world’s governments for direct aid. In a conference call on March 17, Montreal-based International Air Transport Association (IATA) chief economist Brian Pearce said the COVID-19 crisis has affected markets representing 94 per cent of global passenger revenues. According to Pearce, only about 30 operators globally are in a position to survive the current economic freefall.
In the same call, IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac estimated that collectively, global airlines will require US$150 to $200 billion in government aid.
At the time of writing on March 18, the World Health Organization estimates there are over 204,000 cases of COVID-19 infection worldwide, with roughly 600 confirmed cases in Canada.