Nfld. & Labrador

Flights returning to Deer Lake carrying passengers — and hope — for hospitality sector

Tammy Priddle, CEO of the Deer Lake Airport Authority, says the Air Canada flights from Halifax and Toronto have them optimistic there are better days ahead.

CEO of the airport authority says they're optimistic better days are ahead

Tammy Priddle, CEO of the Deer Lake Airport Authority, says the airport is losing $6,000 a day because of COVID-19 travel bans. (Colleen Connors/CBC )

The Deer Lake Regional Airport terminal is practically empty but there are physical-distancing signs posted and Plexiglas in place in anticipation of Air Canada returning Monday with daily flights from Halifax and Toronto.

Tammy Priddle, CEO of the Deer Lake Airport Authority, says they're very excited about the flights.

"It gives us hope that there are better things to come."

Priddle says the airport has seen a 97 per cent drop in passenger traffic since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down air travel, for an average loss of $6,000 a day, so the airport and surrounding area are welcoming the news of new flights.

The Deer Lake Airport Authority runs on a not-for-profit basis and, even with the return of some flights, will have to borrow money this year to make up for the large summer loss. Still, it's a positive change, said Priddle.

"It's a step in the right direction," she said.

The provincial government requires all travelers arriving in Newfoundland and Labrador from outside the province to self-isolate for 14 days.

Business to the region

Chris Legge, general manager of the Deer Lake Motel, says he believes the flights returning to the Deer Lake Airport will mean a spike in business for his 55-room motel. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

The return of two Air Canada flights in June and WestJet flights returning in July could mean a much-needed spike in business for the hotels in Deer Lake.

The Holiday Inn Express, the Driftwood Inn and the Deer Lake Motel depend on passengers who need a place to stay before heading on their holiday to Gros Morne National Park, St. John's or other parts of the province, so the return of flights is a signal that tourists will eventually return, whether from an Atlantic Canada bubble or beyond.

Chris Legge, general manager of the Deer Lake Motel, says his spot, just a few kilometres from the airport, is averaging 10 occupied rooms a night at a time of year when its 55 rooms are usually full each night. 

"I don't think we really realized how much we depended on it until it shut down," Legge said.

"I'm pretty excited, actually. April and May have been terrible. Our June month is starting to pick up already so just knowing that this is going to happen, and traffic is moving as we move to the next alert level, I think we will be OK."

The Deer Lake Motel is usually full this time of year, but right now it's seeing guests in only about 10 rooms a night. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Legge says it's more than just passengers who stay at his hotel.

"We look after some of the flight attendants and crew from different airlines. They stay with us on a regular basis. That's guaranteed rooms for us each night," he said. 

Not a normal summer

Air Canada will return flights to the Deer Lake airport on Monday from Halifax and Toronto. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

The returning flights to the province's west coast will not be full due to COVID-19 health restrictions. The airport would normally see 100 flights land in the summer but this year there will only be 37.

"It's not like a light switch we can just turn back on. It's going to take a little while. I'm optimistic — I think everyone around this area with businesses is optimistic. It's just going to take a while. I hope everyone can survive," said Legge. 

"I think the summer is going to look after itself. And as we move into the fall, it's going to get better." 

Time needed to recover

Priddle says the new flights will be a slow return to normal with fewer people on board due to physical distancing measures taken by the airlines and because she feels people are still anxious to travel.

"It will take some time to build that confidence," she said.

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