Air Canada has announced it is suspending indefinitely 30 domestic flight routes, including six in New Brunswick, as the nation's largest airliner continues to grapple with the financial crisis brought on by the global pandemic.
The company also said it's closing eight stations at regional airports, including Bathurst Regional Airport, in a statement Tuesday outlining further cuts to its operations.
New Brunswick's three largest cities — Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton — are losing their flights on to Halifax.
"These structural changes to Air Canada's domestic regional network are being made as a result of continuing weak demand for both business and leisure travel due to COVID-19 and provincial and federal government-imposed travel restrictions and border closures, which are diminishing prospects for a near-to-mid-term recovery," the statement said.
About two-thirds of the flight routes Air Canada is suspending in the country involve Atlantic Canadian and Quebec airports. The six New Brunswick routes are:
- Fredericton to Halifax
- Fredericton to Ottawa
- Moncton to Halifax
- Saint John to Halifax
- Moncton to Ottawa
- Bathurst to Montreal.
Air Canada is closing its stations in Bathurst, Wabush, N.L, Gaspé, Que., Baie-Comeau, Que., Mont-Joli, Que., Val d'Or, Que., Kingston, Ont., and North Bay, Ont.
A blow to north of province
The mayor of Bathurst said "it's another blow" to northern New Brunswick following the loss of major employers in recent years.
Paolo Fongemie said he was "disappointed" and "discouraged" by the news the regional airport, which serves northeastern New Brunswick, would be losing its lone air carrier.
He said the airport will remain open since it hosts chartered flights, couriers, emergency services and other aircraft, but the administration will likely reduce its operations, including staff.
Bathurst airport officials have yet to responded to an interview request.
Fongemie said the air carrier provides an instrumental transportation link for business officials and the regional tourism sector. He said the airport, which sees more than 50,000 passengers during a regular year, invested $7 million in expanding its terminal and lengthening its runway.
The mayor said the area could support two to three daily flights.
"There's a business plan for a transporter in our airport," he told Shift New Brunswick.
Fredericton, Moncton airports react
Both Fongemie and the CEO of the Fredericton International Airport Authority recognized the financial crunch facing the air travel industry.
"This is difficult news for our community, but we are grateful that Air Canada has ensured continuous service to Fredericton throughout the pandemic," Johanne Gallant in Fredericton said in a statement to CBC News.
"The COVID-19 pandemic and border closures have hit the travel and tourism industries especially hard, and air service is going to be critical for our province's economic recovery. We continue to work with our government and airline partners to find a path forward safeguarding both the health of our people and the health of our economy."
Julie Pondant, corporate communications specialist with the Greater Moncton Roméo LeBlanc International Airport, said said they were saddened to receive the news Tuesday. The two Moncton routes were daily flights, running multiple times a day, she said.
She said the airport will take a significant financial hit but will continue to operate a full-functioning airport.
"Losing two routes is a lot for us and we're hoping, at one point, once the economy is healthier, those flights come to Moncton again," Pondant said.
She said Air Canada hasn't offered any indication when that might be. In the meantime, there are other ways for New Brunswick air passengers to reach all of those affected destinations but Halifax, she said.
The company said it had to make significant structural changes after reporting a net loss of $1.05 billion in the first quarter of this year.
The route suspensions and station closures are the latest cost-saving steps.
Air Canada has already reduced its staff by more than half — about 20,000 employees — removed 79 aircraft from its fleet and reduced its operations by about 85 per cent this spring compared to 2019.