MONTREAL -- Quebec has created a working group to find a solution to the province’s rural air travel woes after Air Canada cancelled regional flights to several areas.

“We will start our work next week, to have a short-term solution, mid-term and long-term solution,” said Quebec Transport Minister François Bonnardel.

The working group is comprised of elected officials and other organizations, and their first deadline is Sept. 1.

While everyone in rural regions know how hard-hit Air Canada was by COVID-19, they were still caught off guard by the complete cancellation of their routes, said John Gradek, an aviation expert based at McGill University.

“I don’t think the communities really thought that Air Canada would in fact suspend service,” he said.

“They would look at reducing a level of service, maybe. But not necessarily walk away.”

Flight routes to Gaspe, Val d’Or, Les Iles de la Madeleine and Baie Comeau have all been cancelled. In Gaspe, the airport must stay open for emergency reason but it costs about $160,000 per month with no traffic coming in and out, said Gaspe Mayor Daniel Côté.

Last week, Quebec Premier François Legault said he would consider subsidizing charter companies that would fill the gap.

Côté said he hopes Quebec airlines can pick up where Air Canada left off. He said, however, that in the long term the entire business model needs to be reviewed.