January 20, 2021 By Evan Careen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram
Airfare in and out of Labrador has never been what people would call cheap, and since the COVID-19 pandemic hit and airlines scaled back operations across the country, it’s only gotten harder and more expensive to fly to the Big Land.
The problem isn’t unique to this province, and neighbouring Quebec has similarly been hit with the loss of many routes, especially in rural areas. A group of entrepreneurs from Quebec recently decided to do something about it and formed a co-operative, the Cooperative de Transport Regional du Quebec (TREQ), with plans to offer low-cost flights to and from a number of airports in Quebec and at least one in Labrador.
Mirka Boudreau, the North Shore representative and vice-chair of the board of directors for TREQ said it seemed like an obvious choice for them to include Wabush in their plan.
“Wabush is such a strategic airport for the region,” she said. “It seemed like a no brainer to include it, with all the mining activity there and the amount of people from Quebec and Labrador who use it.”
Boudreau said the co-op’s board, which includes representatives from different regions of Quebec, first met in November 2020 and started working out the idea. They’ve been working hard on financing, she said, and expect that to all be in place soon.
Since it’s a co-op, she said, they aren’t looking to make money from the venture and therefore can offer flights at lower costs than people are used to seeing. The prices will also be set and won’t change depending on things like time of year or length of time before travel.
Since it’s a co-op, Boudreau said, things like price changes would have to be voted on and justified to members. The maximum cost they currently have listed on the website for a round-trip ticket would be $425, with others as low as $199.
She stressed the goal of the operation is to provide a service for members and not to make profit.
“Around the board, we are all entrepreneurs,” she said. “We are not co-op people. This is good because while the goal of a co-op isn’t to make money, we are all entrepreneurs and are really strategic in our decisions.”
People from any region of Labrador will be able to join the co-op, Boudreau said, and travel from Wabush to different parts of Quebec.
Boudreau said she expects a large number of people from Labrador to be interested in the flights, and Wabush Mayor Ron Barron agrees.
Barron said that from everything he has seen and heard about the plan so far, it seems like a good idea.
“People will certainly use it,” he said. “Who wouldn’t? At those prices, they won’t have any problems at all filling those flights. The market is here.”
Barron said the airport sees a lot of passenger and commercial traffic and the recent decision by Air Canada to pull out of the region left a big gap.
While TREQ is only offering flights to Quebec, Barron said it will be an improvement and allow people to get to major airports for reasonable rates.
Boudreau said they hope to get the service up and running soon, with plans to hire pilots this month and start offering lifetime memberships for $10 in February. If everything goes well, she said, the first flights are planned to be in the air by May.
Evan Careen’s reporting is supported by the Local Journalism Initiative