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COVID-19: Air Canada to cut more routes in Atlantic provinces amid rising cases

Effective Jan. 11, the airline says it will be suspending until further notice all flights in Sydney, N.S., and Saint John, N.B.

Air Canada will cutting more routes in Atlantic Canada starting in the new year because of a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

Effective Jan. 11, the airline says it will be suspending until further notice all flights in Sydney, N.S., and Saint John, N.B., along with temporarily halting routes in Deer Lake, N.L., Charlottetown, Fredericton and Halifax.

"This decision was not taken lightly, and we regret the impact on our customers and community partners, but it is increasingly difficult to continue to operate in this challenging environment, without specific financial support from government, with whom continue to wait for negotiations to start," said Peter Fitzpatrick, an Air Canada spokesman.

The move comes after the country's largest airline announced in June the indefinite suspensions of 11 routes in Atlantic Canada and the closure of stations in Bathurst, N.B., and Wabush, NL.

Fitzpatrick said the most recent route cuts in Atlantic Canada represent a small subset of the 95 planned suspensions it announced along with its third-quarter earnings results in November.

In October, WestJet Airlines said it was suspending 80 per cent of its Atlantic Canada capacity.

Airlines have been cutting service as passenger demand has dwindled, prompting Air Canada to convert several planes to carry freight. The airline industry has been calling for federal support for months.

The federal government last week announced support for sectors that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, including airports and hotels, but didn't provide specific aid to airlines.

Daniel-Robert Gooch, president of the Canadian Airports Council, said the lack of a targeted response from the federal government contributed to the cuts by Air Canada.

"This development was practically inevitable given the continued provincial restrictions on air travel in Atlantic Canada, the reluctance to consider COVID-19 testing programs to improve safety and mitigate the need for such long quarantines and the lack of federal support for our air carrier partners," he said.

Derrick Stanford, president of the Atlantic Canada Airports Association and CEO of Saint John Airport, said this third major round of cuts in the last six months is whittling down service to an unsustainable level.

Other airports across the country have made drastic cuts to their operating expenses as the lack of revenue from fees forces them to reduce costs.

"Our industry cannot survive and operate in these conditions, and we are seeing the worst-case scenario playing out here today," Stanford said in a news release. 

"This will have a huge impact on our region’s economy, on the ability of families to reconnect, on the movement of essential workers, and on airport employees and businesses.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2020.

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Jon Victor, The Canadian Press