Nfld. & Labrador

Stephenville airport loses summer flights from Porter, Sunwing

Stephenville’s struggling airport has been dealt another blow, as two more airlines have cancelled their summer flights to the western Newfoundland destination.

Airport to lose about 60 seasonal flights a year

Porter and Sunwing have both cancelled summer flights to Stephenville. (CBC/Canadian Press)

Stephenville's struggling airport has been dealt another blow, as two more airlines have cancelled their summer flights to the western Newfoundland destination.

Sunwing Airlines announced last week that when its summer flights between Toronto and Newfoundland begin June 26, they won't be flying to Stephenville.

On Tuesday, Porter Airlines announced its planes would stay on the ground until July 29 due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, and cancelled its summer flights to Stephenville entirely.

Mayor Tom Rose said he was expecting that Porter might not fly to Stephenville this summer, but he was surprised Sunwing chose to fly to Deer Lake.

"I think Sunwing probably looked at their travel capacity and the numbers that were going to Deer Lake and Stephenville and probably made a business decision," he said.

"[That's] unfortunate, because they've been here for about a decade now."

The announcements from Porter and Sunwing come just months after PAL Airlines flew its last flight from Stephenville in January, leaving the airport without a year-round commercial air service.

With Porter and Sunwing gone, Rose said, the airport will lose about 60 seasonal flights a year.

Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose says he expects positive announcements for the airport in the next month or two. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

He said the town has been working with the Stephenville Airport Corporation to try to attract travellers in the region back to Stephenville and to encourage more airlines to offer flights from the airport.

The mayor said he also expects positive announcements in the next month or two that will make Stephenville "a more robust, busier airport for domestic travel."

"Our airport's been hurting for years, we've been putting a fair bit of municipal funds into the airport to keep it going, but it hasn't been sustainable," he said.

"[But] I'm pretty excited for 2021."

'Big opportunities' for Stephenville

Rose said as travel restrictions due to the pandemic begin to lift, Stephenville could take advantage of increases in travel within Canada. 

"People, I believe, are going to be a little hesitant to fly international, but they'll feel a little bit more assurance and easiness about flying domestically.… There's big opportunities for us," he said.

In the meantime, Rose said, other sources of revenue, like air ambulance and military operations, can help keep the airport going, and the town will be providing more funding to the airport as part of a restructuring plan, in addition to a $100,000 grant given to the airport in March.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the Stephenville Airport Corporation said it was disappointed by Porter's decision to cancel its flights to the airport, but understands the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We have a very short season and considering the provincial travel restrictions in place for Newfoundland and Labrador at this time, it would be very challenging for leisure air service to resume and be profitable," the statement reads.

"We continually work with air carriers to encourage them to consider Stephenville Airport as a leisure market, as we have established that there is a high propensity for visiting friends and relatives in the core summer season and holidays."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Newfoundland Morning

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