Air Canada is pulling more routes out of Atlantic Canada, according to the Atlantic Canada Airports Association.
As of Jan. 23, the airline will suspend all service in Gander, N.L., Goose Bay, N.L., and Fredericton, N.B.
The news comes days after Air Canada, on Jan. 11, suspended all flights in Sydney, N.S., and Saint John, N.B., in addition to temporarily pausing its Deer Lake- Halifax, Fredericton-Toronto, Charlottetown-Toronto and Halifax-Ottawa services.
On Wednesday (Jan. 13), the airline said it is adjusting its network under its COVID-19 Mitigation and Recovery Plan by further reducing first quarter system capacity by an additional 25 per cent.
As a result of the changes, there will be a workforce reduction of approximately 1,700 employees, in addition to the over 200 impacted employees at its Express carriers.
Reducing cash burn
In a release, Air Canada said it is working with its unions on mitigation programs, citing government-imposed travel restrictions and quarantine measures as the main reason for the cutbacks.
“…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,” said Lucie Guillemette, executive vice-president and chief commercial officer at Air Canada. “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,”
While Ms. Guillemette admitted that “this is not the news we were hoping to announce this early into the year,” she said Air Canada is still encouraged by the already-approved two COVID-19 vaccines in Canada and the government’s plan to vaccinate a bulk of eligible Canadians 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,” said Guillemette.
With the latest reductions, capacity in the first quarter of 2021 will be about 20 per cent of what Air Canada operated in the first quarter of 2019.
Air Canada says it will continue to evaluate and adjust its network as required in response to the trajectory of the pandemic, government-imposed travel restrictions and quarantines, and to market and regulatory conditions.
Affected customers on all routes will be contacted by Air Canada and offered options, including refunds for eligible customers and alternative routings where available.
Disconnecting Atlantic Canada
Atlantic Canada has endured a wave of route suspensions from airlines in recent months.
In October, WestJet announced plans to indefinitely suspend operations to Moncton, Fredericton, Sydney and Charlottetown, while significantly reducing service to Halifax and St. John's.
The move eliminated more than 100 flights weekly, or almost 80 percent of seat capacity, from the Atlantic region, and also paused operations to Quebec City with the removal of Toronto service.
"It has become increasingly unviable to serve these markets," Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO, said at the time. "Since the pandemic's beginning, we have worked to keep essential air service to all of our domestic airports, however, demand for travel is being severely limited by restrictive policies and third-party fee increases that have left us out of runway without sector-specific support."
Airlines have been cutting services for several months now as demand for travel drops amid the coronavirus crisis.
Trudeau's Liberal government delivered its fall fiscal update on Nov. 30, announcing a new aid package for Canada’s struggling travel and tourism tourism sector, but did not reveal any sector-specific support for aviation.
The federal government is still preparing a bailout package for airlines, according to reports.
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