London, Ont. airport CEO calls exclusion from international flights list ‘unfair’

FILE - London International Airport on July, 19, 2017. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

The CEO of the London International Airport was surprised and disappointed to learn that the city’s airport would not be open to international flights at the end of the month.

Mike Seabrook said he was expecting the city’s airport to be included in the latest round of airports allowed to resume accepting international passenger flights, announced Tuesday.

While London was not included in Transport Canada’s announcement, nearby John C. Munro Hamilton International and Region of Waterloo International were on that list.

“In our minds, it’s absolutely unfair that Kitchener and Hamilton have been included in this and we haven’t,” Seabrook told Global News.

“We have Air Transat and Sunwing operating out of here this winter that they’ve got to sell tickets on these flights, and if they can’t get the tickets sold, they’re going to cancel the flights.”

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Seabrook said the airport is working with Mayor Ed Holder and London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos “to help us in this process.”

Fragiskatos told Global News that he, Holder and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra held a meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss the decision.

“I’ve gone to bat for the airport in the past. I will go to bat for it this time. I’m pushing very hard for the airport to be in the next phase of approvals.”

Holder told Global News in a statement that he is “extremely disappointed” that London’s airport was not included in Tuesday’s announcement and that he “made (his) feelings known” to Alghabra.

“By any measure, London International Airport should be cleared to resume accepting international flights. I’ve yet to hear a reasonable explanation as to why that isn’t the case, and, in my view, it’s plain wrong,” he said.

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“This is an important issue, not only for the airport but for our local economy, and I will continue to make the case for reconsideration.”

According to Fragiskatos, the decision was based largely on current traffic and ridership volumes.

“Take Waterloo’s airport, for example, they’ve added discount carriers like Flair, and that has led to them being busier,” he said.

“Waterloo’s airport is, I think, a very good comparator because our communities are similar in size. The same is true of Hamilton, for example, which was on yesterday’s list. Their airports are busier than ours at the present time. That may not have been the case prior to the (COVID-19) pandemic, but it’s the case now.”

Seabrook argues that the decision doesn’t make sense geographically, with Kitchener-Waterloo and Hamilton fairly close to Toronto Pearson airport and Toronto City Airport, which were both already accepting international flights.

“They’ve pretty well shut us out of it. And Windsor is in the same boat. I’m sure Windsor was screaming at the top of their lungs as well.”

Fragiskatos said he’s optimistic London will be in the next round of approvals, adding that he and Alghabra have been colleagues for years and have a “very good working relationship.”

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“He understood quite well also the importance of the airport for our community.”

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It’s unclear when the next round of approvals will be announced, but Seabrook is hoping it comes quickly, otherwise, “the winter is going to be a write-off.”

“Airlines typically need weeks and months to accumulate enough bookings to make the flight successful. People typically book two and three and four and five months out for a vacation,” Seabrook explained.

As that window of time for bookings becomes narrower and narrower, Seabrook said people will choose other options. If, as a result, an airline fails to book enough seats, he said it’ll “have no choice but to cancel” the flight.

“We live and die by passenger services and the revenue that it generates,” said Seabrook.

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“If you’re going to shut us out, then, you know, we can’t pay the bills. And then what are you going to do to help us? And I mean, we really don’t want help. We want this airport thriving again. We want the return of our service and our passengers.”

Fragiskatos said that “if there’s a need for further support in the future, that’s something that will always be looked at,” but he highlighted a significant $4.5-million funding announcement this summer.

“I know (that) will go — and has gone — a long way to helping the airport sustain itself. And that’s not my analysis. That comes directly from Mike Seabrook, its CEO, who was quite happy when we announced this and remains a very good partner.”

The transport minister’s office provided a statement to Global News Wednesday morning, explaining that the government “understands the importance of the London Airport to the people of London and the economic wellbeing it brings to the region.”

“As a next step in expanding the scope of our measures, consideration will be given to adding additional airports as conditions dictate, based on demand, operational capacity, the epidemiological situation in Canada, and recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency.”

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Fragiskatos said he hopes an announcement will be made “in the coming weeks.”

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