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Air Canada faces pushback over plans to cut popular Penticton-Vancouver early morning flight

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Air travellers and local and federal politicians are calling on Air Canada to reverse its decision to cancel the popular early morning and late-night flights connecting Penticton to Vancouver.

South Okanagan-West Kootenay NDP MP Richard Cannings said the airline plans to drop the late-night flight, which arrives in Penticton around 11 p.m. and departs the following morning around 6 a.m.

The decision comes on the heels of an Air Canada announcement that modern, faster and more reliable Bombardier Q400 NextGen aircraft will replace the aging fleet used on the same route.

There will be three daily flights between Penticton and Vancouver, representing an increase in seat capacity of 17 per cent beginning May 1, according to the airline.

“An important factor when developing schedules is to ensure that overall seat capacity is appropriate for the market demand, which is reflected in the number of frequencies,” Air Canada said in a statement to Global News.

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But Cannings said the South Okanagan business community, which relies on the early morning and late-night service, will be left in the lurch. He said local business people who travelled to Vancouver for day trips depended heavily on the route.

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“Those flights are always full, and when I was talking to Air Canada over the last year or so about getting Q400s in, they said: ‘Well, we may have to cut back on a flight,’ and they had added a flight in recent years in the summer in the middle of the day, and I said: ‘Well, that’s fine. We can get by without that flight if we get the added reliability of the Q400s.’

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Cannings said he was shocked to learn the flight that the airline decided to cut was the “essential” early morning/late-night route.

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“If it stays the way it is, it will have a serious impact on service to Penticton and the whole South Okanagan so I’ll keep on fighting, and hopefully, we can come to a happy solution,” he told Global News on Thursday while travelling on parliamentary business in New Zealand.

One of those frequent flyers who will be impacted is Campbell Johnston.

“For those of us living in the South Okanagan, it’s going to be a major problem,” he said.

“I go down for business on the early flight, and it works very well, indeed. We can come back on the 6 p.m. flight, but frequently, I come back on the late flight at the end of a day so this is really going to be a huge problem,” he said outside of Penticton Regional Airport on Thursday.

The City of Penticton is also getting involved in the lobbying efforts against the cuts.

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Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki said a meeting is scheduled on Monday between Air Canada officials and city staff.

“I believe that those are the two most important flights that leave and come to Penticton during the day, and that is going to hurt our business people,” he said.

Vassilaki is concerned the cuts could impact the local economy.

“It always hurts the economy, and we can’t let that happen, especially in the summertime, when we need those flights,” he added.

Air Canada declined an interview request by Global News. Instead, it issued a statement that said, in part: “We are committed to working together with the community leaders to evaluate the feasibility of any adjustments.”

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