WestJet suspends Atlantic Canada service, eliminates more than 100 flights each week

CALGARY — Four Atlantic Canada cities will no longer have service from WestJet Airlines as the pandemic continues to take a toll on the airline industry.

WestJet said it will halt routes to Fredericton and Moncton, N.B, Sydney, N.S., and Charlottetown, PEI while paring down service to Halifax and St. John’s, N.L. The airline will also suspend operations between Toronto and Quebec City.

The cuts will take effect Nov. 2, eliminating more than 100 flights weekly and removing nearly 80 per cent of WestJet’s seat capacity from the Atlantic region.

“The lack of travel demand combined with domestic quarantines means that sadly we can no longer maintain our full Canadian network of service,” said CEO Ed Sims in a video post.

“Since the pandemic’s beginning, we have worked to keep essential air service to all of our domestic airports, but we are out of runway and have been forced to suspend service in the region without sector-specific support.”

The federal government called the decision by WestJet “unfortunate” and said it continues to analyze the impact of COVID-19 on the air sector and possible means of recovery. 

“We continue to work closely with industry, provincial governments and local stakeholders to find solutions and the right tools to ensure that regional links remain operational to serve these communities on a long term basis,” said Marc Garneau , Minister of Transportation. 

WestJet said it will lay off 100 corporate and operational support employees, on top of the 4,000 workers it has laid off since March. The cuts do not include airport staff from the affected Atlantic airports due to an earlier restructuring.

The airline said it flew more than two million passengers per month in 2019. Since the onset of COVID-19 in March, it has flown a total of just over one million passengers, which equates to a 93 per cent decrease over that time period.

More than 70 per cent of the carrier’s fleet remains grounded.

The four Atlantic provinces continue to enforce a travel “bubble” that requires a two-week quarantine for those arriving from outside the region.

Canada, unlike its G7 counterparts, has opted to hold off on financial aid tailored to the airline sector, instead offering measures such as federal wage subsidies available across industries.

“Many foreign carriers who are able to access COVID funding have been able to use some of those fundings to really undermine Canada’s international aspirations,” said independent aviation analyst Rick Erickson.

He predicted neither WestJet nor Air Canada would likely declare bankruptcy or cease operations without federal support but financial aid would support the long-term health of Canada’s carriers by allowing increases to sunspots and international services while maintaining larger employment levels.

“The federal government just doesn’t seem to recognize the fact that strong Canadian carriers are going to be a very important part of the economy going forward as they have been in the past.”

With files from the Canadian Press

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