MONTREAL — Air Canada has announced it is further reducing its system capacity for this first quarter of 2021 by an additional 25%.
The news coincides with updates Atlantic Canada’s airports received from Air Canada, advising of more air service suspensions that will become effective Jan. 23rd.
According to the Atlantic Canada Airports Associations (ACAA), Air Canada will be suspending all service until further notice in Gander, NL, Goose Bay, NL and Fredericton, NB.
There are also reports from the CBC that Air Canada that flights between St. John’s and Toronto will be cut, as well as service from Yellowknife, NWT.
Monette Pasher, the ACAA’s executive director, notes that the industry has been calling for federal support for Canada’s airlines for months now, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is the fourth round of air service cuts in our region in 10 months,” says Pasher. “Government imposed travel restrictions federally and provincially are severely impacting the air sector right now. Government is telling us to stay home and stay put, but the reality is our sector needs financial support to get through this time to support the essential service airlines and airports provide.”
On Dec. 8 Air Canada announced service suspensions out of Sydney and Saint John, which took effect Jan. 11.
Earlier in 2020, in June, Air Canada announced route suspensions on some 30 domestic routes, including many in Atlantic Canada, and the closure of eight airport stations in its network including Bathurst, NB and Wabash, NL.
And in October 2020 WestJet announced the suspension of 80% of its Atlantic Canada capacity, indefinitely suspending operations to four Atlantic Canada gateways – Moncton, Fredericton, Sydney and Charlottetown – and significantly reducing service to two more, Halifax and St. John’s.
Says Pasher: “We cannot just flip a switch to turn air service back on when we get to the other side of this pandemic. We are going to have a long hard road ahead of us to rebuild air access for our region. Repercussions of these cuts will be felt for years to come in many Atlantic Canada cities, towns and rural communities.”
She adds: “When the airline industry contracts, smaller communities are hit hardest and we have seen this time and time again throughout the pandemic. The biggest reason for today’s cuts is a combination of the domestic travel restrictions unique to our region and rising COVID cases across the country, which understandably, impacts demand. Industry experts say it could take up to a year until the majority of the population is vaccinated, this sector cannot wait that long to begin recovery. There are safe ways to restart this sector. Our provinces need to implement testing protocols to better understand the level of COVID-19 in our communities and help rebuild consumer confidence in this sector, which is why we have been calling for testing pilot programs at our region’s airports.”
AIR CANADA’S CUTS
Air Canada’s capacity cuts announced today bring a reduction in Air Canada’s workforce by 1,700 employees, in addition to 200+ impacted employees at the company’s Express carriers. Air Canada says it is working with its unions on mitigation programs.
“Since the implementation by the federal and provincial governments of these increased travel restrictions and other measures, in addition to the existing quarantine requirements, we have seen an immediate impact to our close-in bookings and have made the difficult but necessary decision to further adjust our schedule and rationalize our transborder, Caribbean and domestic routes to better reflect expected demand and to reduce cash burn. We regret the impact these difficult decisions will have on our employees who have worked very hard during the pandemic looking after our customers, as well as on the affected communities,” says Lucie Guillemette, Air Canada’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer.
Guillemette adds: “While this is not the news we were hoping to announce this early into the year, we are nonetheless encouraged that Health Canada has already approved two vaccines and that the Government of Canada expects the vast majority of eligible Canadians to be vaccinated by September. We look forward to seeing our business start to return to normal and to bringing back some of our more than 20,000 employees currently on furlough and layoff.”
With the cuts, Air Canada’s capacity in the first quarter of 2021 will be about 20% of what it operated in the first quarter of 2019.
Impacted passengers on all routes will be contacted by Air Canada and offered options, including refunds for eligible customers, and alternative routings where available.