Air Canada flights could be back on the runway at Saint Airport by June.
In an interview Thursday, Saint John Airport acting CEO Greg Hierlihy said the airport is gearing up for a looming restart, which will see suspended flights resume and new airlines touching down for the first time.
The airlines will "react to demand," he said, "but right now we've got a couple of Air Canada flights a day to Toronto and Montreal on the schedule as of June 1."
Air Canada suspended all flights out of Saint John, as well as Toronto flights out of Fredericton, in January because of pandemic-driven travel restrictions and reduced demand.
Flair Airlines, which announced in February that it has chosen Saint John Airport as its only New Brunswick destination, has also moved its first-flight date to June 1 from May 1, Hierlihy said.
Porter Airlines, which had cancelled all routes until May 19, has not scheduled a return date.
But the airport "fully expects they will return," Hierlihy said.
"It's a matter of when."
Much depends on vaccine rollout, travel restrictions
For both Air Canada and Flair, the June 1 date is a bit of a moving target.
"It will rely a great deal on the easing of travel restrictions and the 14-day quarantine requirement," Hierlihy said. "But with the vaccine rollout we are very optimistic about that."
In an email, Pascale Déry, Air Canada's director of communications for Eastern Canada, Quebec and Europe, also emphasized the dependence on the pandemic's direction.
"We continue to evaluate and adjust our route network … in response to the trajectory of the pandemic and travel restrictions," Déry said.
The reopening of the Atlantic bubble, scheduled for April 19, is "an optimistic sign," Hierlihy said, although it won't have a large impact on air travel for the Saint John Airport.
"What we really need is to open up to the rest of Canada to really drive traffic."
'Some real optimism' around the industry
An accelerated vaccine rollout, the announcement Wednesday that WestJet plans to resume flights to the Atlantic region at the end of June, as well as remarks by Premier Blaine Higgs following the announcement, have all sparked "some real optimism" around the industry, Hierlihy said.
Higgs welcomed WestJet's announcement Thursday, noting "it's good news that they want to get back in the province and that they're picking another airport to open up to, not just Moncton."
"I'd like to think it's just a matter of a week or two or three and we'll get Saint John included as well."
Hierlihy said he was pleased that the airport's importance as as an economic engine of the region was given a nod.
He also addressed occasional rumours and speculation about the airport's possible closure, saying he's "confident" the airport has a key role to play in the region.
With the economy poised for turnaround and borders poised to reopen, airports will be a key driver of post-pandemic recovery, Hierlihy said.
"I'm confident that there will be recognition of the critical importance of the Saint John Airport," he said.
"The fact that we're getting scheduled flights back will continue to drive that confidence."