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Sydney airport officials worried they are on Air Canada's closure list

The empty J.A. McCurdy Sydney Airport in May. The airport's future remains a concern for CEO Mike MacKinnon. CAPE BRETON POST
The empty J.A. McCurdy Sydney Airport in May. The airport's future remains a concern for CEO Mike MacKinnon. CAPE BRETON POST
SYDNEY, N.S. —

Air Canada has made a list and J.A. McCurdy Sydney Airport officials are worried they are on it.

In its Q3 news release, Air Canada announced they have 95 air routes and nine stations in Canada on their list for closure and they are just waiting to see the results of talks with the federal government regarding an industry relief program.

“Obviously we are concerned because if we were to lose the Toronto flights, we would have no commercial flights left at YQY at all, so we are hoping the discussions lead to some meaningful solutions for the industry,” said Mike MacKinnon, CEO of the Sydney airport.

“Many airports in Atlantic Canada are worried because the Atlantic bubble 14-day isolation requirements have suppressed air travel demand in our region much more than out west, where many routes are operating successfully.”

Air Canada officials said they cannot reveal the routes and stations under consideration for closure for commercial reasons.

Currently, the Sydney airport only operates an Air Canada Sydney to Toronto flight five times a week, departing at 5:25 a.m. and returning to Sydney just after midnight.

MacKinnon said he is aware of the passenger numbers but cannot release them as they are proprietary.

“I can tell you they range from ‘fair to very good,’ depending on the day right now,” he stated. “They were quite strong this past summer. Passenger traffic always drops off in November through January, the exception being the peak holiday travel window from Dec. 15-Jan. 10.”

Air Canada recently notified the Sydney airport that the suspension of the inter-provincial flight from Sydney to Halifax from Nov. 2-Nov. 30 has been extended until Jan. 10. The Halifax-Sydney route has been operating for 78 years.

In October, WestJet announced it was suspending services out of Sydney as of Nov. 2.

In an earlier Post story, Air Canada spokesperson Pascale Dery said scheduling is adjusted to reflect the reality of significantly reduced travel due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

MacKinnon has been advocating for relief for airports. He doesn’t understand why it’s taking this country so long to react to the industry crisis when worldwide, airlines and airports have been supported by their governments.

At this time, the Sydney airport is handling an average of four to five medical fixed-wing and helicopter flights that transfer patients between Halifax and Cape Breton; Breton Air helicopters continue to operate and mail cargo flights arrive five to six times a week. Private aircraft as well as Moncton Flight School training flights also use the local airport.

“Unfortunately these flights generate very little revenue,” MacKinnon said. “The revenue we need comes from commercial passengers departing from YQY who pay a passenger facility fee as part of their ticket.”

Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway said since the onset of the pandemic he has maintained contact with MacKinnon and discussed how they can advocate together to keep the airport's doors open.

“One thing that I have made clear to my colleagues in Ottawa is that when we get to the other side of this pandemic, airports like the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Airport will be essential to our recovery. It is a critical piece of infrastructure that connects so many of my constituents to larger travel centres supporting business growth and development across Cape Breton-Canso.”

Currently, he said, the federal government is developing an assistance package for Canadian airlines, airports and the aerospace sector that is in the discussion stages. However, Kelloway said before this package rolls out, the government will ensure that Canadians get their refunds for flight disruption caused by COVID-19.

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