Politicians in B.C.’s Southern Interior as well as the business community say the loss of Air Canada service to Penticton, B.C., will be a blow to the local economy and an inconvenience for air travellers.
On Tuesday, the airline announced it will suspend the Penticton-Vancouver route indefinitely, as of Jan. 11, due to pandemic-related challenges.
It said the decision was propelled by low demand, ongoing travel restrictions and quarantine rules.
“Air Canada is still carrying less than eight percent of its normal passenger volumes,” Air Canada said in a statement to Global News, “due to factors beyond our control and with no horizon for recovery.”
The service cuts will mean South Okanagan residents must travel to Kelowna to catch a direct flight to the coast.
WestJet will become the only commercial carrier to service Penticton, with daily flights to Calgary.
Dan Albas, Conservative MP representing Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, hammered the Prime Minister during question period on Wednesday in the wake of the announcement.
“Will this Prime Minister do something now! Or is he telling the residents of the area that they should go fly a kite because they certainly won’t be flying,” said Albas.
In response, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “we will continue to work with airlines to ensure support and protection of regional routes, particularly once we get through this pandemic and want to start travelling again.”
Richard Cannings, the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay, said it could take years for the airlines to recover from the pandemic, and he’s worried a long-term loss in service could devastate the economy.
“The tourism sector will be really hard hit if people can’t fly in Penticton, especially things like conventions and conferences,” Cannings said.
Nicole Clark, president of the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce, said despite the headwinds, she is optimistic another carrier will fill the void.
“And whatever carrier comes, it will be incumbent on all of us in the South Okanagan to support them and use our airport,” Clark said.
Air Canada said it needs more financial support to survive, but there is debate if the corporation is to be bailed out by taxpayers.
“If we are going to provide supports for large corporations, and corporations with shareholders, with CEOs that get big salaries, that federal taxpayer money shouldn’t be used to be put into shareholders dividends, it shouldn’t be used to give CEO a bonus,” Cannings said.
The Prime Minister took a firm stance in regards to bailout options.
“No sector-specific support will go to the airlines until they return refunds to Canadians and until they show us a plan for restoring regional routes,” Trudeau said.
The uncertainty leaves the future of the airline industry, as well as the return of regional routes, up in the air.