Cape Breton aviation company hopes to fill void in the sky
With Air Canada and WestJet no longer flying into Sydney airport, Celtic Air Services is ramping up charters
A Cape Breton company is hoping to take advantage of a market opportunity after two major airlines scaled back scheduled flights in Atlantic Canada.
Celtic Air Services took over operations at the Allan J. MacEachen Airport in Port Hawkesbury, N.S., in 2017 and began offering helicopter tours in the region two years later.
The company recently bought a Quebec-based airplane charter business to add to its growing list of services.
"The major airlines pulling out of a lot of spots and cutting down on their regional flights definitely played into our hands," said Celtic Air president Dave Morgan. "Definitely good luck and good timing."
WestJet suspended many flights last fall and Air Canada soon followed suit. Both cited lack of demand as passenger traffic dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since January, neither airline has flown out of the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport.
Morgan said he had always planned to add airplane charters to his business, but the lack of scheduled flights in the region created an opening he couldn't pass up.
"We're a Cape Breton company so for now, we're eyeing up Cape Breton airports, be it Sydney and Hawkesbury for now," he said.
"In the summer, we can get into some of the smaller airports, as well."
Celtic Air has nine employees. Last summer, the company bought AxAir Aviation, which comes with three full-time employees and a Cessna airplane that seats five passengers.
Morgan said the pandemic has slowed his business plans a little. Pilots had to go to the United States for training on flight simulators and they are now finishing ground school at the Port Hawkesbury airport.
The plane arrived in Cape Breton on Thursday and Morgan said he hopes to be up and running in a month.
He said the market opportunity already exists and he expects to be flying into northern Labrador, Quebec, Ontario, Atlantic Canada and the eastern U.S.
Already planning growth
"Right now, there's huge troubles for folks that work away and folks that work throughout Atlantic Canada," said Morgan.
"The drive from Sydney to Saint John, New Brunswick, is a long one for an engineering firm that's sending workers back and forth on a project each week, and without connectivity from the airlines, we think the charter air is going to be an option for them."
Morgan said he's already planning to add another plane and more pilots as business takes off.
"The goal is definitely to add to the fleet and consider where the market leads us as we go. We definitely think that it's going to be a bigger plane next," he said.
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With files from Brent Kelloway