WestJet slashes capacity with knock-on effect on domestic hubs

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Following the Canadian government’s decision to introduce inbound testing and the continuation of the 14-day quarantine, WestJet has noted significant reductions in new bookings and unprecedented cancellations on flights. Subsequently the airline has made further cuts to its schedule as it continues to face volatile demand and instability in the face of continuing federal government travel advisories and restrictions.

Cuts to the airline’s schedule include the elimination of more than 230 weekly departures (including 160 domestic) and the removal of more than 30% of capacity versus prior months. It will also include the suspension of 11 routes (Edmonton-Cancun, Edmonton-Puerto Vallarta, Edmonton-Phoenix, Vancouver-Cancun, Vancouver-Phoenix, Vancouver-Puerto Vallerta, Vancouver-Cabo, Vancouver-Los Angeles, Vancouver-Palm Springs, Calgary-Las Vegas, Calgary-Orlando).

Around 1,000 employees across the WestJet Group will also be impacted through a combination of furloughs, temporary layoffs, unpaid leave and reduced hours. There will also be a hiring freeze implemented.

“The entire travel industry and its customers are again on the receiving end of incoherent and inconsistent government policy,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO in response to the government’s new testing regime. “We have advocated over the past 10 months for a coordinated testing regime on Canadian soil, but this hasty new measure is causing Canadian travellers unnecessary stress and confusion and may make travel unaffordable, unfeasible and inaccessible for Canadians for years to come,” Sims continued.

“Regrettably, this new policy leaves us with no other option but to again place a large number of our employees on leave, while impacting the pay of others,” he added.

The airline plans to remove approximately 30% of its currently planned February and March capacity from the schedule, a more than 80% reduction year on year. In addition, the airline will reduce domestic frequencies by 160 departures as frequently evolving advisories, travel restrictions and guidance continue to negatively impact demand trends.

Grande Prairie Airport Canada

Canada’s regional and community airports call for holistic approach

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Grande Prairie Airport Canada

Canada’s regional and community airports are expecting massive fee increases and operational service reductions in 2021. Speaking on behalf of its member airports (of which there are more than 50 member representing over 190 airports nationwide), the Regional and Community Airports of Canada (RCAC) organisation blamed the failure of government and the airline industry to embrace a holistic approach to aviation support during the COVID-19 pandemic for leaving airports on the brink of financial collapse.

“For all Canadians outside of our large urban centres it is regional and local airports that connect the vast regions of our country for essential services, business and leisure travel,” said Brian Grant, Chair of the RCAC and CEO of Grande Prairie Airport in Alberta, Canada. “These smaller airports play a critical role in providing remote access and a quality of life that all Canadians expect. Movement of critical food supplies, emergency health care, essential cargo, emergency evacuation, forest fire fighting services are just a few examples of what regional and community airports deliver in addition to passenger air travel,” he continued.

He also alluded to the fact that the focus so far has tended to be on the major airlines and airports that connect Canadians in large urban areas to transborder and international destinations, which is frustrating for the country’s smaller, regional community airports.

While much of the last year has seen staffing cuts and reduced services as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, airports have still been expected to meet fixed operational and safety costs dictated by government regulations along with new pandemic related costs to ensure the safety and confidence of travellers. “In 2021 these airports are estimating upwards of 45-6-% increases in rates and fees charged to airlines and passengers to continue operations as they exist today. In most cases reserve funds have been depleted and the only possible reductions left are closures of airport infrastructure,” added Grant.

RCAC is calling for various recommendations to ensure effective government support. These include: Stabilising the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy for airports to no less than 75% for 2021 to protect the employment capabilities of these airports for their employees. The organisation is also asking for financial assistance to cover fixed operating costs at 2019 levels and an increase of the Airport Capital Assistance Programe funding to $95 million annually. Plus, it wants to ensure that regional and community airports’ eligibility to all federal COVID-19 assistance programmes is offered regardless of an airport’s governance or ownership model.

Header image: Grande Prairie Airport, Canada (an RCAC member)