Airports in Atlantic Canada are facing another “major blow” due to the COVID-19 pandemic after WestJet announced Wednesday that it will soon no longer fly to Moncton, N.B., Fredericton, Sydney, N.S., and Charlottetown and will drastically cut back its service to St. John’s and Halifax.
“It’s a major blow…. Any time you lose a service, that’s very challenging,” said Mike MacKinnon, CEO of the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport.
“It’s not an unexpected situation. I think the writing was on the wall for some time, given the restrictive travel policies, the low passenger demand and some of the other factors involved.”
The Calgary-based airline said it is eliminating 100 flights, which represent about 80 per cent of its service into and out of Atlantic Canada.
“We are just finding that the demand is not there. The Atlantic Canada bubble makes it tremendously difficult for people to move back and forth to those destinations in Atlantic Canada and recognizing that we are simply losing a considerable amount of money every day that we’re operating there,” said Richard Bartrem, WestJet’s vice-president of communications.
“So until there is something like a vaccine or a testing regime that allows us to see that bubble reduced or lifted, we’ve got no choice but to make the difficult decision.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only residents living within the four Atlantic provinces — New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador — may travel freely within the Atlantic bubble without the need to isolate. Canadians coming from outside the bubble must self-isolate for 14 days.
The route cancellations mean that the airline will also shutter its operations at the airports in Charlottetown, Moncton, Fredericton and Sydney.
The routes will be cancelled as of Nov. 2, and as a result about 100 jobs will be eliminated. Earlier this summer, Air Canada cancelled 30 routes, most of which were in Atlantic Canada.
Doug Newson, CEO of the Charlottetown Airport Authority, said the cuts don’t come as a surprise.
“We see the numbers coming and going in the airport these days,” he said.
“We see that WestJet has significantly reduced their schedule to Charlottetown over the past number of months, and the demand is simply not there for them to carry passengers at this moment — given the current travel restrictions and the conditions with the pandemic.”
Both the Sydney and Charlottetown airports have been relying on capital reserves since March, and now the loss of WestJet as a carrier will only reduce revenue further.
“We, along with other airports, are hoping and optimistic that the federal government may provide some sectoral specific relief for both the airline industry and the airports, because it’s certainly needed at a time right now where air travel is coming to a complete standstill,” Newson said.
He said the Charlottetown airport has enough capital reserves to get through a couple of years, but both he and MacKinnon are confident the cuts are only temporary.
“We’re hopeful that as things improve — maybe [as] restrictions get lifted, which we’re hoping will happen — that they’ll be back in service sometime in the future,” MacKinnon said.
“But we can’t predict — I don’t think anyone in 2020 can predict what is going to happen.”