A decision by Air Canada to indefinitely suspend all its operations in Cape Breton is the “final nail in the coffin” for air service to the island, according to the Sydney airport’s CEO.
Air Canada had already suspended service between Sydney and Halifax earlier this fall, and announced Tuesday it will also cut service between Sydney and Toronto — which is currently available five days a week — starting Jan. 11, 2021.
Mike MacKinnon, CEO of the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport, called the move “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 in a news release Tuesday.
Airport using reserve funds
MacKinnon noted that before the pandemic, Sydney was served by both Air Canada and WestJet. The airport had regular service to Halifax and Toronto, and seasonally to Montreal.
Service cutbacks to the region and other parts of the Maritimes began this fall with WestJet; Air Canada suspended some its services soon after.
In an interview, MacKinnon said the recent service cutbacks mean the airport is using its reserve funds to stay open.
After the last commercial flight on Jan. 10, the airport plans to stay open for private airplanes, medevac and cargo planes that come a few times a week.
“It will be a very quiet winter and basically we’ll be going into a bit of a hibernation … working hard on recovery strategies,” said MacKinnon.
Could vaccine put travellers at ease?
He said he’s hopeful COVID-19 vaccines — the first of which are expected to be rolled out in Canada this month on a small scale — will start to restore some public confidence in air travel.
But with widespread distribution of vaccines likely several months away, MacKinnon said he wants the provincial and federal governments to support COVID-19 testing at airports — something that has recently been piloted in Alberta and Ontario, but not administered on a large scale.
He said he was encouraged by Ottawa’s fall economic update, in which Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland mentioned support for regional airports would be coming soon. But MacKinnon would also like to see help for airlines.
“An airport is just not successful without airlines operating and without commercial air traffic,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”