VAL D'OR, QUE -- Following the announcement that Air Canada is abandoning its regional routes, Air Creebec is implementing a plan to increase its air service between Montreal and Abitibi.

The carrier, which partly belongs to the Cree nation, intends to offer a connection between Montreal, Val-d'Or and Rouyn-Noranda starting in August.

“Before the health crisis, we offered the Montreal-Val-d'Or-Chisasibi service once a day. This service will be maintained, and the flight to Rouyn-Noranda will be added,” said Air Creebec president Matthew Happyjack. “Obviously there will have to be a demand, but we are going to start with three days a week, and we will increase the pace if necessary.”

Before suspending its service, Air Canada offered four flights a day between Montreal and Abitibi.


Given the current situation, the question arises: Does Air Creebec have the backbone to upgrade their service?

“At this level, we are ready,” said Air Creebec president. “The Stornoway mine (located in the far north) has closed its facilities, which frees up certain equipment that could be used to make the new connections. As for the personnel, we have some available, following the COVID-19 crisis. We can therefore recall these workers and assign them to the new line.”

The discontent at Air Canada had also been evident for a long time.

“I’ve already heard of all kinds of stories,” added Happyjack. “With flights cancelled, and all kinds of excuses for bad service, Air Canada no longer has a very good reputation in the region. I think we can take over.”

Air Creebec intends to reach its goal without the help of Quebec or Ottawa. Currently, the carrier is receiving emergency assistance for its employees due to COVID-19, and receives already existing financial assistance, a result of the regional aviation summit held in 2018.


The next stakeholder meeting will take place on July 8, and Happyjack is hoping for progress.

“The plan we have is not an emergency plan to temporarily take over from Air Canada,” said the Air Creebec president. “We have had a plan in mind for some time, and we had partners interested in making it work. No question for us to offer a temporary service. If we work on the file, it is on a 15-20-year timeline.”

Happyjack hopes to be able to offer a service equivalent to that of Air Canada, at a price roughly equal or lower.

“Before COVID-19, we had a good percentage of our seats that were occupied on our flights,” he said. “It is certain that the demand will have to be there for us to serve Rouyn-Noranda. We know that Air Canada will continue to offer Rouyn-Noranda-Montreal service, but we don't want to settle for a complementary role.”

Air Creebec has support not only in Val-d'Or, but everywhere in the region.

“We are privileged to be able to count on a solid carrier of the calibre of Air Creebec,” says Val-d'Or Mayor Pierre Corbeil.

Val-d'Or Chamber of Commerce executive director Hélène Paradis, agrees.

“Luckily, we have Air Creebec. The region must now massively support our carrier, since it is essential for us to maintain an air service, not only for business customers but also for our health, education and tourism services. Not to mention the mining sector, which is the backbone of our region,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 3, 2020.