New commuter airline stalled by pandemic switches to emergency aid for remote communities
B.C.'s Cascadia Air was supposed to launch commercial service this spring
Cascadia Air was set to be the newest small-scale commercial airline in B.C. this spring, but due to COVID-19, it's now focusing on transporting essential goods, services and personnel to the province's more remote communities.
Jeremy Barrett, the COO and chief pilot of the Campbell River-based company, said it became evident in March that launching the service as planned would be difficult.
Barrett, along with other senior pilots on the fleet's team, has experience piloting air ambulances. He said the best thing they could do was switch to a more cargo-based emergency service for the duration of the pandemic.
"We knew that things would get difficult for everybody out there and we understood supply chains would be disrupted along with essential services," Barrett told host Kathryn Marlow on CBC's All Points West.
"The best way to support our communities was to get out there and be there for the community during this tough time."
The airline will be providing Rapid Emergency Air Delivery — or READY — services to remote communities on Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, Haida Gwaii and the Interior.
"Right now, the biggest call we see are food items that are critical," he said. "Some places are unable to get common items like sanitizers, disinfectant materials, personal protective equipment."
Uncertain economic future
The airline industry was particularly hard-hit by the global pandemic.
Air Canada, Canada's largest airline, says it lost $1.05 billion in its first quarter, as a result of travel restrictions around the world, due to COVID-19.
Major airlines have been pressing the federal government for an aid package to help them survive the pandemic. Some European nations and the U.S. have already agreed to bailouts.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the country will need a strong airline sector, once the pandemic is over.
"We're looking very carefully on how to support industries like that, that are so important to Canada and Canadians," Trudeau said, without making any specific promises immediately.
Watch Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak about the airline industry:
For smaller airlines like Cascadia Air, Barrett says his team will be looking closely at passenger demand as the economy begins to open up and will respond accordingly.
But, he says, he expects they'll be busy with their emergency service to remote communities for some time into the future.
"Right now, our primary focus is supporting our communities with essential supplies."
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With files from All Points West