By Evan Careen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A recent deal struck between Air Canada and the federal government to keep the struggling airline afloat is an important step for Labrador air travel.
That is because it includes the return of flights to a number of rural communities across the country where it had cut service. One of those communities is Happy Valley-Goose Bay, which lost Air Canada flights in January.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Wally Andersen said it’s good news that there will be a second company coming in and out of the central Labrador community again, offering flights to other parts of Canada that aren’t currently available, and wants to make sure they stay.
“I hope they don’t come back and start flights and then all of a sudden if something happens, they pull out again and leave us stranded,” he said. “That’s a concern that I have and hear from a lot of people. We welcome them back but hope they will stick with us when the times get bad.”
Andersen said since the routes to St. John’s and Halifax were cut earlier this year people have had trouble getting flights, since the demand is still there and real. Air travel is essential in Labrador, he said, where people routinely must travel outside the area for a variety of reasons.
Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper agreed with Andersen on the need to reconnect the region to other hubs such as Halifax but said he is frustrated it took this long to get the service back.
“Many of the G20 countries were helping their national airlines and supporting them. Canada was slow to the table, I’m not sure why, every level of government was hearing the frustrations of people on this loss of economic connections.”
He said he is happy the deal is now done and that it includes setting up a simplified refund process for people who were affected by the closures earlier this year. His office has been working with constituents since then trying to get refunds for people, he said, and he’s hopeful this can provide resolution.
Providing access to refunds was one of the commitments Air Canada agreed to in the deal with the federal government. The airline can access $5.879 billion in liquidity through the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF) program. It also agreed to resume service to 13 communities by June 1, restrictions on the use of the funds provided, and employment and capital expenditures.
“The additional liquidity program we are announcing today achieves several aligned objectives as it provides a significant layer of insurance for Air Canada, it enables us to better resolve customer refunds of non-refundable tickets, maintain our workforce and re-enter regional markets,” Michael Rousseau, president and chief executive officer of Air Canada, said in a release.
SaltWire reached out to Air Canada for more information on what routes will be available from Happy Valley-Goose Bay and was told details and schedules will be available in the near future. The email said as part of Air Canada’s agreement with the Government of Canada, the company “will resume service to 13 currently suspended stations within Canada with a minimum of three weekly return flights, beginning no later than June 1st and increased as market conditions warrant.”