Elected officials across Quebec are denouncing Air Canada's decision to indefinitely suspend several regional travel routes in the province.
Four of the eight shuttered regional airport stations, and eight of the 30 cancelled routes, are in Quebec. Two other scrapped routes link Quebec to maritime provinces.
Without the flights, people in several parts of the province — including the Lower St. Lawrence, the North Shore, Gaspé and Abitibi-Témiscamingue — are effectively cut off from major city centres.
Gaspé Mayor Daniel Côté said with Air Canada no longer serving the Gaspé airport, visitors to the region now have the sole option of a more than 10-hour drive.
"It hinders service, and it hinders the connectivity of the region," he said.
Coté said his major concern is for people travelling for business, and he hopes another airline will be able to fill the void left by Air Canada.
Rimouski Mayor Marc Parent said aerial transportation is essential to economic development in the regions, and wrote on Twitter that he's "extremely disappointed" by the announcement.
People living in the affected regions rely heavily on air travel to connect with the rest of the province and the world, and in many cases, have very few alternatives, especially when it comes to accessing medical care.
"It's terrible, but it's not a surprise for me," said Sept-Îles Mayor Réjean Porlier, who added air travel in the regions serves the market, not individual customers.
He said flying in and out of the North Shore is extremely cost-prohibitive, and even people with medical appointments in Quebec City — an eight-hour drive from Sept-Îles — are forced to travel by road, because they can't afford the plane.
When Air Canada announced last October it would reduce its daily flights between Quebec City and Sept-Îles from three to two, Porlier said residents and business owners are "hostages" to the airline's monopoly.
"It's a hard blow for all the regions," said Marilène Gill, the Bloc Québécois MP for Manicouagan.
The Union des municipalités du Québec has also spoken out against the decision.
A statement from the organization says it's a particularly difficult time for the regions, which are trying to kickstart their economies, especially with tourism revenue.
Airline blames pandemic for widespread cuts
Air Canada is COVID-19's impact on travel for the cuts, stating the demand for both business and leisure travel has plummeted.
Air Canada spokesperson Pascale Déry wrote in an email to Radio-Canada the profitability of regional routes is dependent on the company's larger domestic and international flights, and that local demand for regional flights is not enough to keep them operational.
Quebec Transportation Minister François Bonnardel told Radio-Canada he's working with Air Canada and other airline partners to find a solution to best serve Quebecers. He said he's also working with his federal counterpart on the file.
"This decision by Air Canada will be very disappointing to the residents and communities affected by these service cuts, but it reflects the unprecedented impact COVID-19 has had on the aviation industry and its workers," said federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau.
"We understand this will have an impact on many Canadians across the country and we continue to work with Canadian airlines and airports during these challenging times."