Smaller cities suffer the economic brunt of Air Canada’s pandemic exit

Trudeau 'open to strengthening' international travel measures as new COVID-19 variants emerge

Because the airways and the federal authorities battle it out over an trade bailout, a brand new spherical of service cuts this week has left many in Canada’s smaller centres feeling like they’re being held for ransom.

There is no such thing as a query that the funds of Air Canada and WestJet have been severely damage by the collapse of home and worldwide journey through the pandemic, which has solely been made worse by a brand new and extra extreme wave of COVID-19 unfold.

The airways say they’re closing the routes as a result of that’s the place they’re dropping cash.

However as Fredericton, Yellowknife, Prince Rupert and Kamloops had been added to an extended listing of small communities to the place Air Canada will now not fly, questions are being raised over whether or not susceptible regional economies are getting used as a bargaining chip to pressure the federal government’s hand.

Monica LaBarge, who teaches on the Smith Faculty of Enterprise at Queen’s College in Kingston, Ont., mentioned that whereas airways all over the world have misplaced cash through the pandemic and are on the lookout for financial savings, it’s onerous to disregard the political implications of reducing companies to smaller enterprise centres which have few transportation alternate options.

“It isn’t a tough stretch for them to say we simply cannot afford to do it proper now,” mentioned LaBarge, “However there could also be a strategic side to it as effectively.”

Enjoying a strategic recreation

In Europe, governments have already supplied airways tens of billions of {dollars} in bailout cash to assist them survive the monetary affect of journey bans and lockdowns.

And whereas Canadian airways have been capable of benefit from the identical subsidies obtainable to different struggling companies, LaBarge mentioned an even bigger bailout package deal particularly for airways has been held up by a dispute over the place the cash will go.

“The airways and governments and client teams to some extent have been in a little bit of a standoff as customers are ready for refunds for flights they weren’t capable of take,” mentioned LaBarge. 

The lineup at Yellowknife airport safety test on Dec. 29, 2017. Not like some regional airports the NWT capital will nonetheless have service for important journey, however not from Air Canada. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)

By not refunding ticket costs paid in good religion by passengers, she mentioned that Air Canada might have created its personal problem when it then went to the federal government on the lookout for bailout money.

“The federal government’s on this untenable place that they cannot actually afford to do this from an optics perspective and from a equity perspective too,” mentioned LaBarge. “It isn’t truthful for particular person customers to subsidize Air Canada’s losses.”

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Canada’s new Transport Minister Omar Alghabra known as regional service cuts disappointing, saying future help for the airways can be on the situation that regional airports proceed to be served.

However Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce known as the most recent Air Canada cuts “deeply troubling.”

“With cuts to regional air service in Atlantic Canada and throughout the nation, the scenario is way more than simply an air trade problem — pockets of our nation threat being disconnected from others,” mentioned Beatty on Wednesday, calling on the federal government to supply extra help.

Firm blames authorities

In an announcement Wednesday of new service and staffing cuts, the airline put the blame for its newest 25 per cent lower, together with 1,700 extra layoffs, squarely on authorities laws.

“For the reason that implementation by the federal and provincial governments of those elevated journey restrictions and different measures, along with the prevailing quarantine necessities, we have now seen an instantaneous affect to our close-in bookings and have made the tough however crucial determination to additional modify our schedule and rationalize our transborder, Caribbean and home routes to raised replicate anticipated demand and to cut back money burn,” mentioned Lucie Guillemette, govt vp and chief business officer at Air Canada in a launch.

The lack of extra jobs will get the federal government’s consideration, however maybe not as a lot because the outcry over the lack of service to small city centres throughout the nation.

Ken Christian, mayor of Kamloops, B.C., mentioned he was “past disillusioned” to see the cancellation of the town’s solely direct flights to Vancouver, about 250 kilometres away. 

Deneen Everett, govt director of Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, mentioned that whereas shocked by this week’s announcement that the airline was reducing service to the capital of the Northwest Territories, her members had numerous sympathy for Air Canada as a struggling enterprise.

Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce was disillusioned Air Canada was pulling out however members believed the airline needed to make the appropriate determination for his or her enterprise. (Jennifer Geens/CBC)

“We definitely respect that Air Canada has to make the appropriate determination for his or her enterprise,” mentioned Everett. “However clearly it’s disappointing information for our neighborhood.”

Airways have recommended that air journey is just not a significant explanation for COVID-19 unfold, however Everett mentioned that the tight journey restrictions that led to the main provider’s determination have helped to maintain the NWT nearly COVID-free. At present there aren’t any instances being reported within the territory.

“We’re one of many most secure locations on the planet proper now and among the finest enterprise environments for retail,” she mentioned. Nonetheless, the Chamber stays fearful that with out authorities help, the close to full lack of vacationer visitors will result in the everlasting lack of many companies.

One concern for LaBarge is how lengthy it’ll take for the struggling airline enterprise to get its books in ok form to return to the communities it’s now abandoning. Yellowknife nonetheless has scheduled passenger service from different airways, however in accordance with Ted Bartlett, president of Transport Motion Atlantic, different communities dropping service aren’t so fortunate.

The Kamloops, B.C., airport pictured in June 2019. Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian mentioned he was ‘past disillusioned’ that the town is dropping its solely direct flight to Vancouver. (Courtney Dickson/CBC)

Bartlett, who volunteers in his position on the transportation advocacy group, mentioned he was shocked that as New Brunswick’s provincial capital, Fredericton can have no service in any respect.

“It appears to me a metropolis is just not a metropolis until it has good transportation hyperlinks to the remainder of the nation and the world,” he mentioned.

Trendy companies, together with in smaller cities, rely on shifting items and folks rapidly from all over the world and Bartlett says many concern regional airports might not survive, compounding the pandemic’s affect on native corporations.

“The airways in fact reply to their shareholders and it is all about shareholder worth,” mentioned Bartlett. He mentioned that was totally different 40 years in the past when as a Crown company, a part of Air Canada’s job was to offer service to all components of the nation.

However in accordance with an e-mail this week from Alghabra’s press secretary Allison St-Jean, the federal government stays dedicated to regional air service, however the technique of acquiring it’s now totally different.

“Earlier than we spend one penny of taxpayer cash on airways, we’ll be sure that Canadians get their refunds, regional communities retain air connections to the remainder of Canada and Canadian air carriers keep their standing as key clients of Canada’s aerospace trade,” she wrote.

Observe Don Pittis on Twitter @don_pittis

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