Quebec's regions are reeling after losing local flights; Legault says he's open to subsidizing charters
MONTREAL -- The Gaspé prides itself on being seen as a paradise for tourists, but it's more than a point of pride -- the dollars they bring with them are crucial for the local economy.
That’s one reason the region is reeling after Air Canada’s announcement this week that it would stop flying to Gaspé.
“The Air Canada announcement arrived at the worst imaginable moment,” said Gaspé Mayor Daniel Côté.
The region was just trying to relaunch its economy, he said, but now even Quebecers won’t be able to fly there.
It’s not just Gaspé. Air Canada is abandoning routes to Baie-Comeau, the Magdalen Islands, Sept-Iles and Val-d’Or.
And it’s not just about tourism.
“You have workers that cannot travel to those regions,” said Quebec Liberal leader Dominique Anglade.
“From a health-care perspective, you have patients that cannot go and get treated.”
There are few obvious options. Charter airline Air Creebec says it will increase flights between Montreal and Abitibi to try to make up for the loss of service in that area.
Quebec Premier François Legault said this week he’s open to giving a subsidy to any charter company that will provide regular service to the regions affected. Legault said air travel is an essential service.
Whether Air Canada's was unavoidable is up for debate.
The airline says this is inevitable and anyone who expects it to continue those routes doesn’t fully understand air travel economics.
The company’s CEO says the aviation industry is facing a catastrophe. In a recent interview with the Financial Post he called the pandemic “hundreds of times worse than 9/11, SARS and the global financial crisis.”
In a statement, an Air Canada spokesperson explained that the regional flights are only profitable when they’re connected to the bigger domestic and international network bringing in travellers from elsewhere. They can’t be maintained with local traffic alone.
One expert said, however, the major airlines are likely also trying to make a point.
“A layperson would look back and say there must be a message here that they're trying to send to Ottawa,” said McGill University’s John Gradek, “for the fact that Ottawa has not been forthcoming with a sectoral bailout for the airline industry.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he’s “disappointed” by Air Canada’s decision.
Trudeau won’t commit to any type of aid, but he has said that since Air Canada flies the most profitable routes in Canada, it should also be expected to serve the less populated regions.