WestJet axes twice-daily run from Deer Lake to Halifax

There are countrywide changes to WestJet's flight services.

Last flights will be in late October; airline maintains seasonal daily run to Toronto

WestJet has made changes to its routes across Canada, including axing a twice-daily flight between Halifax and Deer Lake. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

A twice-daily flight from Deer Lake, on Newfoundland's west coast, to Halifax is being discontinued as of Oct. 28.

"It's disappointing news, but not totally unexpected," says Jamie Schwartz, CEO of the Deer Lake Regional Airport.

Unfortunately there just weren't enough bums in the seats.- Jamie Schwartz

"We were aware that the service was struggling for quite some time, actually since its inception in 2015, and … we're quite surprised it had lasted this long, to some extent."

WestJet introduced the flights between Deer Lake and Halifax in 2015, and Schwartz said the timing was unfortunate, given a turbulent economy and fewer people travelling through.

"Unfortunately, it started at a time when we saw a decline in traffic … to Alberta because of the resulting oil prices and the loss of traffic, commuting workers to and from Alberta," he told CBC's Corner Brook Morning Show.

"We had hoped we could build the service over the last few years but unfortunately there just weren't enough bums in the seats, and airlines need people in the seats to be able to continue."

Deer Lake Airport CEO Jamie Schwartz says it's not surprising that WestJet cancelled the flight. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

While the news is discouraging, Schwartz said, the overall number of people using services in the Deer Lake airport isn't down, just the frequency of flights.

An Air Canada route to and from Halifax, for example, he said, is adding a different aircraft with more seating capacity. WestJet will also be maintaining its seasonal flight to Toronto from Deer Lake, Schwartz said.

He added that there won't be an effect on local jobs, other than the loss to the WestJet employees.

Overall airline changes

Lauren Stewart, a spokesperson for WestJet, said the change in route is part of an overall, Canada-wide route change for the airline.

The "available seat miles" across the WestJet network have been reduced by six percentage points, or 460 million seat miles, this year, she said.

The frequency of WestJet flights from St. John's to Halifax is also dropping as of Oct. 28. Instead of four daily flights, there will only be three starting in the fall.

And in Nova Scotia, a twice-daily flight between Sydney and Halifax is being reduced to once a day.

WestJet says the changes to its flight frequencies are based mainly on demand. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

There were a number of factors that led to this decision, Stewart said, but mainly, it comes down to consumer demand and a responsibility to shareholders.

"The decisions to remove a route are not taken lightly, and we do weigh the trade-offs against the benefits. Ultimately we do have a responsibility to use our assets to provide a service that most guests are looking for and that gives us a reasonable rate on investments for shareholders," she told CBC's On The Go.

"So we appreciate and recognize that this is unfortunate news for Deer Lake but we will continue to evaluate and make changes as necessary."

In Deer Lake, Schwartz said the airport is doing well despite challenging circumstances.

Despite challenging economic and demographic circumstances, Schwartz says the Deer Lake Airport is managing fine. (CBC)

"I've always said that airports are a good indicator of what's happening in the local economies of the areas that they serve and, unfortunately, I think we're seeing population decline, we're not seeing many new jobs being added to the market place, an older population, and so on," he said.

"Don't get me wrong; we're still very strong and in a very strong position to continue and we still have a number of different services and a number of different routes and we're in a healthy financial situation, so this is a bit of a step back but certainly nothing that's not manageable."

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With files from Lindsay Bird