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Sydney will soon have an airport with no flights.
On Tuesday, the CEO of the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport said they have received notification Air Canada flights to Toronto and Halifax will be cut effective Jan. 11, 2021, and the local Jazz aviation station will be closed until further notice.
“It’s indefinite,” said Mike MacKinnon, adding there wasn’t any end date in Air Canada’s notification. “This is a massive blow, absolutely catastrophic to Cape Breton Island. Our airport has been repeatedly slashed by air service cuts ever since the pandemic began and now this announcement on top of the recent WestJet route suspensions is effectively the final nail in the coffin for air service to/from our community for the foreseeable future.”
MacKinnon said he received the devastating news late Monday night.
“I thought about all the staff who will be impacted,” he said, adding they are reviewing staffing and talking to the union. “Terrible news to hear going into Christmas. Other stakeholders like Jazz aviation and CATSA will undoubtedly be impacted, but we don’t know what their plans are yet."
Pascale Dery, a spokesperson for Air Canada, said they continue to experience significantly reduced traffic due to COVID-19, ongoing travel restrictions and quarantine rules, low seasonal demand and the termination of the travel bubble.
As a result, Dery said they are suspending until further notice all passenger operations to Sydney and Saint John, N.B., beginning Jan. 11. Dery said this represents a small subset of the 95 previously planned suspensions disclosed at the time of their third-quarter results.
“This decision was not taken lightly and we regret the impact on our customers and community partners, but it is increasingly difficult to continue to operate in this challenging environment, without specific financial support from government, with whom we continue to wait for negotiations to start,” he said. “Air Canada is still carrying less than eight per cent of its normal passenger volumes due to factors beyond our control and with no horizon for recovery.”
Air Canada also announced the temporary suspension of the following flights: Halifax-Ottawa, Deer Lake-Halifax, Fredericton-Toronto, Charlottetown-Toronto.
LOSS OF CONNECTIVITY
MacKinnon said this means the airport has now lost all air connectivity, a service vital to Cape Breton families, businesses, rotational workers, Cape Breton University and the island’s tourism industry.
Although there were some encouraging signs that the air sector and small airports got some attention in the federal government fall economic statement Nov. 30, MacKinnon said it didn’t address the urgent needs for Canada’s airlines, leaving a gaping hole.
When asked if he ever saw this coming, MacKinnon said he was hoping the federal government talks with the airline would lead to some meaningful solutions, but nothing has happened yet and now they feel the impact of that lack of support.
“You will recall it was exactly one month ago that the minister announced that the federal government would engage in talks with the airlines, so I ask how we ended up here one month later when they knew these cuts were looming?”
Previously, MacKinnon has emphasized the need for rapid COVID-19 testing to make people feel comfortable and safe to fly but said nothing has been done to safely remove some of the barriers to domestic travel that exist in their region.
“We need testing,” he said. “Watching this situation unfold while our airports are waving their arms asking for help to stop the unravelling of our regional air connectivity is gut-wrenching.”
MacKinnon said he is holding onto a glimmer a hope that the airport will get back up and running again after winter hibernation but says it will take help from the province to implement testing and federal financial support for their airline partners.
He said they will continue to engage with provincial and federal government representatives and with the airlines on recovery options.
Many supporters are upset with the news, but MacKinnon said support for the airport needs to be shown by flying from your airport versus driving to Halifax to fly.
“So if we are able to get flights back at some point I sure hope the public recognizes the need to support this airport or risk permanently losing air service," he added.
In the meantime, MacKinnon said they will cut operations further to reduce expenses even more and some services may be suspended in order to survive.
“We will be reviewing our operations and making those decisions in the coming few weeks,” he added.
Marcie Shwery-Stanley, a 38-year advocate for people with disabilities, was also devastated by the news. A member of the Department of Justice Accessibility Advisory Board and Nova Scotia Health Patient, Family and Public Advisory Council, prior to COVID-19 she travelled to Halifax for monthly meetings. Shwery-Stanley said for her, travelling by car is not an option and a shuttle would be too hard for her.
“I feel disconnected,” she said. “Like I’m stranded on an island.”
Shwery-Stanley said the service to Halifax alone is important to many people for business meetings and medical appointments. However, she, like many, enjoys vacation travel as well.
“It’s like we’re living the dark ages,” she said. “It should be reconsidered.”
Paul Carrigan, general manager of the Port of Sydney Development Corp., said whenever you see this happening it’s devastating news to the airport and of course to the economy.
“Realizing it’s probably temporary, it’s still not good to hear news like that,” he said.
Although their employees do travel, since the pandemic hit they haven’t been travelling. However, he said travel is an important part of business and pleasure.
“The biggest impact is on the airport itself,” he said. “It’s hard enough to keep the operation going and that’s revenue loss on their end. It’s tough. Very tough. Similar to the port without cruise.”
This year was supposed to be the inaugural season for the Port of Sydney’s second cruise ship berth which was to record a total of 117 cruise ship visits. Canada has a ban on cruise ships until the end of February 2021.
On Tuesday, Nova Scotia Health announced a potential exposure to COVID-19 that was identified on Air Canada's Toronto to Sydney flight 8210 on Dec. 4. Another advisory released Sunday included potential exposure to COVID-19 on two recent Air Canada Toronto to Sydney flights, Dec. 2 and Nov. 18.
Sharon-Montgomery-Dupe is the enterprise reporter at the Cape Breton Post.
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