Up, Up and Stay?

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How the pandemic has affected air travel in the Sault

By Colette Linden

This year, Wiarton Willie called for an early spring, something that the rodent prognosticator has done seven times since 2011.

As many watched our furry rodent pop out and cheer when he didn’t see his shadow, many others were celebrating by booking a trip to a sunny destination.

With restrictions set to be lifted in the next week and cabin fever at an all-time high, white sand and turquois water might sound appealing but transportation will be a challenge.

In a report released this morning, Terry Bos, President and CEO of the SSMADC stated “Bearskin Airlines is operating up to 2 flights Sunday and up to 4 daily flights Monday to Friday.  Air Canada Express is offering up to one daily flight.  This continues to be a major decrease in flight options compared to February of 2020 when Air Canada was flying 4 daily flights. Porter had up to 2 daily flights, Bearskin was flying up to 7 daily flights and Sunwing was providing once weekly service.”

 “Air Canada Express is offering up to one daily flight. This continues to be a major decrease in flight options compared to February of 2020 when Air Canada was flying 4 daily flights”      Terry Bos

Following on the heels of the SSMADC report this morning was a release from Air Canada announcing 1,500 more jobs lost and 17 more routes cancelled.

The airline will “temporarily reduce its unionized workforce by 1,500 people and by an as-yet-undetermined number of management positions.”

Last week, Air Canada temporarily shut down all Rouge flights, which resulted in the loss of 80 jobs.

Air Canada said that “The layoffs are due to the federal government’s introduction of a mandatory quarantine on arrival as well as the continued suspension of flights to Mexico and the Caribbean,” the airline’s largest union CUPE said.

At least 900 of the jobs lost will come from CUPE members.

Below is a page taken from the Sault Ste Marie Airport Development Corporation Report

Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corporation Passenger Levels Remain at Record Lows

Passenger traffic in January was down 89.3% with the fiscal year to date (April to January) drop coming in at 89.8%.  The past ten months of traffic levels are as follows:

Month Passengers Change from Previous Year
April 63 -99.6%
May 69 -99.6%
June 440 -97.5%
July 2,112 -88.8%
August 3,170 -84.8%
September 2,798 -83.4%
October 2,744 -85.3%
November 2,213 -86.2%
December 2,718 -85.1%
January 1,619 -89.3%

 

The Sault Ste Marie Airport Development Corporation is unique in the country being one of only two regional airports with no municipal or regional government affiliation; it is a private not for profit corporation that owns and operates the Sault Ste. Marie Airport.  As such the SSMADC must self-fund all operational and capital costs with user fees, leases, and customer pay items such as car park and AIF (Airport Improvement Fee).

Aircraft traffic movements have also been greatly reduced during the pandemic the latest available data covers through November 2020 and shows the following levels for the past eight months:

Month Aircraft Movements Change from Previous Year
April 575 -91.0%
May 875 -89.6%
June 954 -87.7%
July 1,245 -81.0%
August 2,703 -57.1%
September 4,922 -12.3%
October 4,819 -23.2%
November 3,684 -18.7%

 

Bos said “A strong system of airports is essential to supporting recovery from COVID-19 for our travel and tourism sector, as well as our trade-based regional and national economies. Canada’s airports and our air sector partners want to play a leading role in this recovery but may not be able to effectively do so without intervention by government.”

Air Canada Route suspensions

The airline is also shutting down service on 17 more routes starting next week including:

  • Toronto to Fort Myers, Fla.
  • Toronto to Boston.
  • Toronto to Washington, D.C. (Reagan)
  • Toronto to Denver
  • Toronto to New York City (LaGuardia)
  • Montreal to Boston.
  • Montreal to LaGuardia.
  • Vancouver to Seattle.
  • Toronto to Bogotá, Colombia.
  • Toronto to Dubai.
  • Toronto to São Paulo, Brazil.
  • Toronto to Hong Kong.
  • Toronto to Tel Aviv, Israel.
  • Montreal to Bogotá, Colombia.
  • Vancouver to London, U.K.
  • Vancouver to Tokyo (Narita).
  • Toronto to Dublin, Ireland.

What does this mean for Air Canada?

  • Job cuts mean that Air Canada has essentially cut its workforce in half
  • Translates to roughly 40,000 people before the pandemic to about 20,000 today

WestJet has cut even deeper. They have lowered their workforce from 14,000 workers to roughly 3,500 today.

So, with visions of pina coladas dancing through your head while zenning out to crashing waves as the white sand tickles your toes – insert backyard staycation here.

Thank you Wiarton Willie for not seeing your shadow but it looks like we will all  be grounded for a while longer in 2021.

Riding the turbulence through this storm is becoming monotonous.