British Columbia

Fort Nelson loses flight service for at least 3 months amid COVID slump

The Smithers-based Central Mountain Air will suspend its two regional routes for B.C., next month, meaning Fort Nelson residents will have to drive four hours to the nearest airport in Fort St. John, or nine hours to the Prince George airport.

Central Mountain Air suspending flights between northeastern B.C. city and Prince George starting Feb. 3

Central Mountain Air will suspend its route between Prince George and Fort Nelson starting in early February, leaving the small Northern Rockies community with no scheduled flight service for at least three months. (Central Mountain Air)

Central Mountain Air announced Tuesday it is suspending flights between Fort Nelson, B.C., and the northern hub of Prince George, leaving the small northeastern community with no flight services for at least three months. 

The Smithers-based airline said flights between Fort Nelson — a municipality of over 3,000 people — and Prince George will not run from Feb. 3 to May 3, at the earliest. 

Travellers from the Northern Rockies town will need to drive four hours to the nearest airport in Fort St. John, B.C., or continue for a nine-hour drive to Prince George.

Central Mountain Air also suspended flights between Prince George and Kamloops in the souther Interior from Feb. 3 to Apr. 5.

"Devastating declines in travel and extended provincial health advisories against non-essential travel have necessitated a significant scaling back of our scheduled operations for the foreseeable future," wrote Central Mountain Air CEO Bob Cummings in a statement. 

Cummings said it's a hard decision to cut back services for remote communities.

"I feel horrible," he said to CBC News. "The air transportation link for medical treatment, keeping a base level of the economy going for the resource industry, as well as cargo, medical supplies, mail … these are crucial links for these communities." 

Fort Nelson Mayor Gary Foster says the flight suspension is particularly challenging for people seeking medical services out of town, as well as medical professionals coming to provide services to the small community.

"They would have to spend a day driving [from the airport in Fort St. John or Prince George] to the Northern Rockies and driving a day out," he said. "Plus they would have a rental car. They would have to pay for the length of time they're here in Fort Nelson."

The nearest scheduled airline service for residents of Fort Nelson, B.C., is now a four-hour drive away at Fort St. John. (Simon Charland/CBC)

Last Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered the new federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra to make regional airlines a priority along with supporting regional economic development.

Foster says federal and provincial governments should step in to support regional airlines like Central Mountain Air amid the economic woes during the pandemic, but he's not optimistic other Canadian airlines are able to fill in the gap to provide services to Fort Nelson.

"I think they're all running for cover and they are worried about just staying afloat until the end of this pandemic," he said. 

Both Air Canada and WestJet have also slashed services because of plummeting demand due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Starting Saturday, Air Canada will cut all its flights from two other B.C. destinations: Prince Rupert on the North Coast and Kamloops.

With files from Andrew Kurjata and Christine Coulter

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