Nfld. & Labrador

For Wabush mayor, being left out of Air Canada plans is just history repeating

While news of a bailout package for Air Canada is being greeted with relief in some parts of Labrador, others aren't so jovial.

'I hope they don't come back,' says Ron Barron

Wabush mayor Ron Barron said he'd rather not see Air Canada return to the region. (Darryl Dinn/CBC)

While news of a bailout package for Air Canada is being greeted with relief in some parts of Labrador, others aren't so jovial.

For Ron Barron, mayor of Wabush — which has not been listed as one of the reinstated services, and instead will be served through interline agreements with third-party regional carriers — it makes no difference whether the airline returns or not.

"We've seen this in the past from them, that they've pulled out of here before," he said.

"But when we had other airlines here that set up shop — regional carriers — they drove them out of here by undercutting them."

On Tuesday, the federal government announced a $5.4-billion bailout package for Air Canada, which in exchange has agreed to refund customers, keep jobs and bring back regional air services that were suspended last year.

But Barron said carriers like PAL Airlines and Pascan Aviation continued to serve Wabush despite the pandemic, something he's disappointed the nation's largest airline didn't do.

Labrador West Chamber of Commerce president Toby Leon says the real barrier for the community is cost, rather than availability. (Darryl Dinn/CBC)

"They just cut and run, and that's not acceptable," said Barron. "Personally, I hope they don't come back. Let's get somebody else in here."

Toby Leon, the president of the Labrador West Chamber of Commerce, likewise doesn't see the return of Air Canada as a solution to the region's needs.

In the midst of the pandemic, Leon said, they'll have to trust Ottawa's judgment in the bailout but Labrador West has long been overlooked.

"There's never been a great solution to our air link to the province and the rest of the world," he said.

"I don't think Air Canada has ever really been a great asset to us."

Goose Bay Airport Corporation CEO Goronwy Price says they're happy to see the return of Air Canada service. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Leon said the region needs to look elsewhere for a better solution to what he says is more an issue of cost than availability.

"There's never been a huge problem in the interim with getting flights; it's always been the price," said Leon.

While Leon would happily see the return of Air Canada to Labrador West, if only for their seat sales, he said there needs to be a more long-term solution.

"Whether that's the Q400s that PAL bought being more inexpensive to operate, and being able to compete, or this charter coming in and putting pressure on," he said. "I know that there are opportunities out there."

Welcome news for airport CEO

But for Goronwy Price, the general manager and CEO of the Goose Bay Airport, the bailout package is a welcome development.

The loss of Air Canada flights, Price said, had a substantial impact on the airport and the community.

"In 2020, we saw a 60 per cent reduction in our traffic," he said. "In 2019, we had 160,000 passengers go through our airport. In the year in 2020, we only had 69,000."

Due to the fixed costs of maintaining the airport at operational capacity, said Price, they lost between 60 and 80 per cent of their revenue throughout 2020, depending on the area of operations.

As a regional airport they're thankful to have had two other carriers, he said, but are eagerly anticipating the return of Air Canada services.  

"The fact that Air Canada has come out and said that they are reinitiating their routes is a very positive sign for us."

Air Canada declined an interview request from CBC's Labrador Morning, but said in an emailed statement that discussions are ongoing with all regional carriers.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Conor McCann is a freelance writer and journalist based in St. John's.

With files from Labrador Morning and Darryl Dinn

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