Air Canada is scheduled to resume daily flights between Kamloops and Vancouver beginning on June 15.
Kamloops Airport manager Ed Ratuski said passengers can currently book flights and Air Canada is assessing demand for those trips, with reinstatement of daily connections between B.C.’s Interior and coast “tentative” at this time.
Ratuski said he spoke with Air Canada, noting the company is going to make an official decision this week.
“But right now, it is scheduled for June 15 to restart daily service to Vancouver,” he said.
Ratuski said if demand is not there, the flights may be pulled back, similar to when the pandemic first hit.
The state of interprovincial traffic will also be examined. Currently, in the second phase of the B.C.’s reopening plan, provincial health officials have asked residents to travel within the province only in essential circumstances. That, however, is expected to change in the third phase of reopening plans, slated for later this month.
B.C.’s Restart Plan states that should transmission rates of the novel coronavirus remain low or in decline, people can begin travelling throughout B.C. in phase three. Hotels and resorts are also expected to reopen at that time, with enhanced protocols in place.
As of June 1, a WestJet flight between Kamloops and Calgary is the only commercial route out of Kamloops Airport. Ratuski said it consists mostly of business travellers, with only a fraction of the seats sold in order to maintain physical distancing. He said the business community is anticipating business travel to only increase, including demand for that Vancouver connection, as well as interprovincial travel for leisure purposes.
Meanwhile, Ratuski said Central Mountain Air, with flights between Kamloops and Prince George, hopes to resume on July 9. He said more information about that will be released in the next couple of weeks. Ratuski said the next couple of weeks will be important, an indication of how busy the summer might be.
If those Vancouver and Prince George flights do indeed return, it will be a good start. However, Kamloops Airport will still have a long way to go in getting back to robust, pre-pandemic passenger numbers, of which records were being set and toppled recently.
Based on statistics, Ratuski said the airport is back to where it was 10 years ago. He said it is a challenge not limited to Kamloops, but one faced by airports across the country and around the world. The pandemic led to demand for travel taking a nose dive, resulting in flight cancellations across the country and mass layoffs at Air Canada.
A challenge going forward will be how airlines can manage financially, given limitations on how many passengers can fly at one time due to physical-distancing requirements. For example, the WestJet flights between Kamloops and Calgary are currently flying at less than half capacity in order to space out passengers. In addition, international travel will not resume for some time.
Ratuski said the industry is not expected to rebound as quickly as previous adverse events, such as the fallout from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Great Recession of 2008. He said the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a longer shutdown and will require a longer recovery period due to global impact and uncertainty over potential subsequent waves of the novel coronavirus.
“We’re forecasting just over 50 per cent of the passengers we had last year for the rest of this year,” Ratuski said. “It’s going to be a long recovery. Everywhere, not just here. The industry is saying a three-to-five-year recovery, just depending on vaccines and stuff like that.”
The final phase of B.C.’s Restart Plan — phase four — includes mass gatherings and international travel. According to the provincial government, that phase, however, requires a vaccine, broad treatment or community immunity.