June 29, 2021 By Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press
FREDERICTON — Airlines are resuming flights across Atlantic Canada to meet pent-up demand as COVID-19 infections drop and travel restrictions ease.
“There are people who have not seen their family in over a year and people who haven’t taken their vacation,” Johanne Gallant, president of the Fredericton International Airport Authority, said Monday as she welcomed the inaugural flight by PAL Airlines from St. John’s, N.L.
“It’s so great to see carriers such as PAL Airlines coming into our airport,” she told reporters. “WestJet started this weekend and we’ve got Air Canada coming back.”
Activity is also picking up at the largest airport in the region, Halifax Stanfield International Airport, which had hosted 17 airlines serving 46 destinations prior to the pandemic, but that fell to two airlines serving four destinations because of COVID-19.
Marie Manning, the airport’s vice-president of business development, said the drop in business has had a dramatic impact on the airport’s finances. “We continue to operate on borrowed funds,” she said in an interview Monday. “It required us to go out and get new financing to continue to support our operations throughout the duration of the pandemic.”
But Manning said the number of domestic flights to and from Halifax is starting to increase. “In July, we will double the number of daily flights in the schedule,” she said. “We will go from an average of nine in June to 18 in July, and then a significant increase in August to 55 daily flights, on average.”
Manning said she’s anxious to get some direction from the federal government on international routes. Currently, only four airports in Canada can accept international flights; they are located in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.
The Charlottetown Airport was down to just one flight per day over the last nine months, flying between Charlottetown and Montreal. But Doug Newson, CEO of the Charlottetown Airport, said Air Canada has resumed flights to Toronto and last week, WestJet returned.
“Both Air Canada and WestJet will gradually ramp up their frequency to Toronto and Montreal as travel restrictions become more favourable for more travel to Prince Edward Island,” he said in an interview Monday.
“WestJet announced late last week they will be adding two weekly flights to Calgary at the end of July,” he added. PAL Airlines and Flair will also begin flying into Charlottetown later this summer.
Peter Avery, CEO of the airport in St. John’s, N.L., said passenger levels at his airport were down 75 per cent last year over 2019 levels, but have begun to rebound with the announcement of the province’s reopening plan and the resumption of the Atlantic travel bubble.
Avery, however, said he expects the recovery to take years. “We still predict it will be 2024 or 2025, and it will come down to people’s willingness to travel based on vaccination rates and how comfortable they feel travelling,” he said in an interview Monday.
In Fredericton, Gallant said that while she knows some people will be hesitant to travel, there is pent-up demand from others who need to see family and friends. “We are seeing some flights that are booking up very quickly,” she said. “And we saw that in other countries that started opening a bit earlier. There is a demand for travel.”