Prince Rupert Regional Airport (YPR) will be back in full flight after the April 12 announcement of Air Canada and the federal government concluding a $5.879 billion debt and financing agreement.
The news that as part of federal financial help for Air Canada, the airline will be required to resume service to both Prince Rupert and Sandspit no later than June 1, was welcomed by both Rick Leach airport manager, as well as Taylor Bachrach M.P. for Skeena Bulkley and NDP Transport Critic.
“Regional routes to communities such as Rupert and Sandspit are vital to connect remote northern communities to essential services. From the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve argued that any public money that goes to the big airlines needs to come with strict conditions, and returning service to Northwest communities was an important part of that,” Bachrach said. “It was critical that the federal government understands how vital reliable air service is for small, northern communities.”
“My hope is that the news of scheduled service returning will give some certainty to the small businesses and tourism operators in our region. They deserve to know that once the pandemic is over, they will be able to welcome visitors back to the Northwest,” Bachrach said.
Leach said he contacted Air Canada soon after the announcement and was told that potentially service could resume as early as May if there are enough improvements with the pandemic situation.
Bachrach said a number of other conditions in the agreement reflect the demands he and the NDP have been pushing for, including requiring Air Canada to provide full refunds to passengers who weren’t able to fly due to the pandemic and putting a cap on executive compensation.
Leach said the refund issue was a big sticking point for the government.
“From what I can gather in my conversations is that because there’s been such an outcry from those who had bought tickets and were not be able to get a refund that a lot of the financing discussion revolved around this. So, it was part of the deal that they needed to do these refunds,” the YPR manager said.
“If Air Canada was not to come back and we did not have commercial service, the airport would be in distress for sure,” Leach said. “The commercial air service is paramount to a financially viable airport here in P.R. … particularly because of our situation on an island airport and the ability for people to come and go. We depend greatly on commercial traffic for the passenger fees and the fuel sales.”
“My hope is that the news of scheduled service returning will give some certainty to the small businesses and tourism operators in our region. They deserve to know that once the pandemic is over, they will be able to welcome visitors back to the Northwest,” the M.P. said.
To be able to have an airline that is healthy and not challenged creates opportunities to grow services or solidify the service Leach said, which is a relief after months of instability.
“Monday’s announcement illustrates the difference we can make in this minority government, by pushing the government to do the right thing and making sure that their policies work for everyday Canadians,” Bachrach said.
“The whole industry needed a cash influx from the government as other countries have done, so it is quite satisfying that they have been able to come to an arrangement,” Leach said with acknowledging the support of the municipal, provincial, and federal governments who have assisted with endeavours to get the local airport through the tough times.
As for flights out of Digby Island, the newer and more fuel-efficient 90-seat Q400’s are being booked for two round trips a day which are a morning and afternoon flight Leach said, with staffing numbers expected to return to pre-COVID levels.
“We are excited about the return and want to encourage all of Prince Rupert residents and surrounding communities to book through the home airport which is YPR and stop that traffic flow down to Terrace,” he said.
K-J Millar | Journalist
Send K-J email
Like the The Northern View on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter