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Cape Breton to appeal to Ottawa for airport support after flights cancelled: mayor


December 9, 2020
By Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press

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HALIFAX — The mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality said Wednesday that the Nova Scotia community will appeal to the federal government for support for its airport after Air Canada announced it was halting service to the island.

“We’ll be quite loud, I can assure you that,” Mayor Amanda McDougall said in an interview Wednesday.

The airline announced Tuesday that effective Jan. 11, it would be suspending until further notice all service to Sydney, as well as to Saint John, N.B.

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McDougall said a meeting with community leaders is set for the end of this week to discuss how to approach the federal and provincial governments over the loss of passenger air service.

McDougall said smaller regional airports will take the biggest hits as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, making the post-COVID recovery that much more difficult.

“We’re here to help and do whatever we possibly can to ensure that our air service can come back to the island, but we need to ensure that the airport is going to be supported in the meantime so that we’re ready for that return,” she said.

Mike MacKinnon, CEO of J.A. McCurdy Sydney Airport, said in a statement the Air Canada service cuts will deal a “massive blow” to Cape Breton. “No airport can survive without airlines and commercial passengers,” he said in an email.

MacKinnon said the airport has now lost all connectivity, hindering families, rotational workers and businesses in Cape Breton, though he hopes it will be able to bounce back after a winter closure.

Josh Rambeau, a health and safety adviser living in North Sydney, travels to British Columbia for work and said the cuts will turn what had been a 20-minute drive to Sydney’s airport into a four-and-a-half-hour drive to the airport in Halifax.

Premier Stephen McNeil called the cuts “devastating” and said the province had worked hard over the last seven years to build international and regional connections through airports in Halifax and Sydney.

“They were a major part of the economic success that we were having,” McNeil told reporters following a cabinet meeting.

McNeil said once COVID-19 wanes, it remains for Ottawa to help ensure there is a return to a competitive airline market in the Atlantic region.

Business Minister Geoff MacLellan, who represents a Cape Breton riding, wasn’t specific but said the province would look to keep the Sydney airport going “to the extent possible.” However, MacLellan said a return to success would largely hinge on how quickly Ottawa can get people using airlines again.

“This very much is going to be temporary,” he said. “This isn’t the end of the Sydney airport and flights between the island and the mainland.”

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.

— With files from Keith Doucette

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2020