January 11, 2021 By Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press
HALIFAX —Air Canada’s service cuts in Nova Scotia and in New Brunswick risk slowing the entire region’s economic recovery, the CEO of a regional airport authority said Monday.
The airline’s decision to cut service to Saint John, N.B., and to Sydney, N.S. – which leaves those cities without any commercial air service – will have far-reaching effects, Derrick Stanford, president of the Saint John Airport Authority, said in an interview.
Commercial planes stopped flying out of those airports Monday morning. Air Canada announced last month it would be cutting all service to the two airports and reducing service to Deer Lake, N.L., Charlottetown, Fredericton and Halifax.
“The withdrawal from all of the services is really going to put Atlantic Canada’s ability to participate in the recovery at risk,” he said. His airport will continue operating for private jet service, medical evacuations and as a centre for the Canadian Coast Guard.
“We’re already disadvantaged geographically because of where we are,” Stanford said, adding that the break in air service cuts residents in the Atlantic region off from the rest of the country.
The cuts have also set back the region’s progress in creating hubs for travel outside Canada, he said. Unfortunately, Stanford added, demand for flights out of the region has dropped to “historic lows.”
The last commercial flight out of J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport departed at 5:30 a.m. Airport CEO Mike MacKinnon said Monday his airport will also shift to non-commercial service, including medical and cargo flights.
MacKinnon said the airport will cut its daily operating hours by half, to 12 from 24, adding he didn’t know when commercial air traffic would return. “It’s really frustrating to be one of the airports to lose service all together,” he said. “We’ve seen the service here die a death of a thousand cuts.”
This isn’t the first blow Sydney’s airport has faced, as Air Canada had previously suspended flights from Sydney to Halifax. WestJet, the only other airline serving the airport, suspended its flights in October as part of cuts that also affected Moncton, N.B., Fredericton, Charlottetown and St. John’s, N.L. “
MacKinnon said he and his team are optimistic the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines will help restart the region’s aviation industry but said getting to pre-pandemic levels of demand and service for air travel is still a long way off. “It is what it is and we’ve got to ride this out as best as we can.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2021.
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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.