Kamloops-Thompson Conservative MP Cathy McLeod says the federal government needs to do more to aid the airline industry, following news of Air Canada suspending all passenger flights out of Kamloops Airport.
Air Canada announced on Tuesday it would suspend all flights beginning on Jan. 23 and the move effectively leaves Kamloops without a Vancouver connection. In its decision, Air Canada blamed economic conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic and pointed to a lack of government support. McLeod, who is herself an essential worker in need of travel, called the news “disappointing.” She said discussion with industry has not resulted in support, despite a federal government commitment to do so.
“The federal government promised support for the industry,” McLeod said, noting the issue is not limited to Air Canada but all airlines, with WestJet also having laid off staff. “They’ve made a promise but they haven’t followed through on any kind of commitment. There’s fairly significant support for small business but, for our larger industries, that promised help has not been forthcoming and we need to have a vibrant air transportation industry.”
Kamloops Airport Manager Ed Ratuski said Air Canada is currently flying one mid-afternoon flight a day, seven days a week to and from Vancouver. Elimination of the flight impacts connectivity. Despite the COVID-19 virtually halting leisure travel, passengers have continued to travel for essential purposes, including work or medical appointments.
“Most of that is what we have been seeing, that is why our numbers are so low,” Ratuski said, noting passenger counts are down 85 per cent. “We aren’t seeing the leisure travellers right now, people going to visit. People are respecting the travel restrictions and quarantine requirements. It is the essential travellers, people needing to get to work to Vancouver and beyond that are impacted here. That’s our concern is the impacts it has on the local community.”
Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said during council’s meeting on Tuesday he is “beyond disappointed” by Air Canada’s decision. Christian said it will impact specifically employees who travel for work at the BCLC headquarters in Kamloops. In addition, the decision negatively impacts tarmac and airport service desk staff.
Air Canada’s Vancouver flight has been steadily operating since June, when it restarted after a shutdown during the first wave of the pandemic. Ratuski said Air Canada tried to introduce more frequent flights, including over the Christmas break, but passenger numbers did not support it. About 5,000 passengers travelled last month over the holidays, down from about 40,000 in a typical December. Ratuski said Air Canada indicated the decision is for an “indefinite” time period. When Air Canada previously suspended its service during the first wave, it resumed operations after a couple of months.
“We expect it to be at least that two-month period that they’re not operating,” he said.
Other flights continue at Kamloops Airport. WestJet operates about 10 flights a week to Calgary and Central Mountain Air operates three flights a week to Prince George. Ratuski said that schedule is expected to continue through the end of February.
Ratuski said conversations occur almost daily with those carriers and he has so far received no indication they will discontinue service, similar to Air Canada.
The mayor said he has directed staff to pursue discussions with other airline carriers to see if they will fill the void left behind by Air Canada. McLeod said research has shown low transmission rates onboard planes and also called for rapid testing.