Wednesday, January 13, 2021

As Airport Manager outlines disappointment at Air Canada service suspension decision ... Prince Rupert, Kamloops and the Communities of Labrador appear to be pawns in larger chess match between Air Canada and Federal Government

See update at bottom of page, which includes statement from Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain.

(Original story)

As anyone who has played Chess will know, the first piece taken off the board is a pawn, the smallish pieces that make for the front row of the board and serve as the starting point of a chess match.

With confirmation today of a number of route suspensions by Air Canada, it would seem that Prince Rupert is among those communities that have been pawned. 

The latest Air Canada move came following a Federal cabinet shuffle Tuesday in Ottawa and perhaps can be framed by Air Canada's continued disappointment that the airline industry's ongoing call for assistance for airlines has not been met.

A file which very well make for the first bit of business for new Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.

As we relayed last night, the Globe and Mail was the first with the news of the suspension of the route between Vancouver and Prince Rupert, a service which now appears to have a last flight in and out of the north coast set for January 18.

This morning Air Canada issued an official statement that provided some background towards their decision to adjust its network and reduce their workforce as part of their COVID-19 Mitigation and Recovery plan.  

A statement which however offered no indication as to how they selected the communities that would lose their flights as part of the 'network adjustment', in the case of Prince Rupert one which only has one airline serving it, that being Air Canada.

“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,” --  Lucie Guillemette, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Air Canada.

Prince Rupert Airport Manager Rick Leach released a statement this afternoon which reflects the disappointment of the airport at the Air Canada decision, the key takeaway from the information release:

"The suspension of air service will levee significant hardship for all the communities served by YPR. The Airport Authority and City leaders have all expressed dismay at the turn of events and while lobby government officials to take immediate action and provide relief to the industry" 

Mr. Leach also notes that Air Canada has indicated that a resumption of service will likely occur in April, with a promise to keep residents of the region parried of the progress as they move forward.

Statement from YPR Manager Rick Leach
(click to enlarge)

So far other than the short passage of dismay in the Airport Authority information release, Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain and the members of City Council have yet to make any kind of public statement related to the upcoming cessation of air service in and out of the city, or how the loss of air service may impact on both the community and the city's financial planning.

As well, neither the Provincial MLA Jennifer Rice or Federal MP Nathan Cullen have spoken to what should be a fairly significant topic of conversation among their constituents.

Not all political leaders have been silent mind you, in Kamloops the airport authority and city Mayor have expressed their disappointment in the news. Noting for their residents that they have already approached alternative air providers to see if they will pick up the business being left behind by Air Canada.

That was a strategy that found some success in Penticton last month, which faced its own Air Canada service withdrawal, that Okanagan community has seen their connection with Vancouver picked up by Pacific Coastal airlines, who were quick to fill the vacancy.

Hopefully Prince Rupert officials are so busy burning the telephone lines in a quest for a solution here, that they don't have time to offer up any form of comment on Air Canada's second abandonment of the North Coast in a less than a year.

Update: As of 3:30 Mayor Brain has posted a copy of the Airport manager's announcement to his Facebook page, in his post he notes of the importance of airport  to the regional Indigenous communities as well as Prince Rupert's Status as the third largest port in Canada.

"We are disappointed to hear of Air Canada’s suspension of service to Prince Rupert and other communities across Canada. We understand the difficult decisions airlines have to make in light of reduced travel and inaccessibility to relief funding from higher levels of government - however, Prince Rupert residents and surrounding First Nation communities are reliant on our airport for essential services, particularly regarding medical attention. 

The next closest airport is 2 hours away, and increases transportation risks particularly during the hazardous winter season along Highway 16. 

In addition, our community is the third largest port in Canada experiencing significant growth opportunities, and disruptions in any service is a disruption towards growing Canada’s global trade interests and contributing to the economic recovery of both the province and the nation. 

 Our view is that there is quality demand here for consistent air service and we support the Airport Authority working diligently to explore alternative avenues to provide service in the near future."

For more notes related to air travel in the Northwest see our archive page here.

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