Air Canada’s decision to suspend direct Victoria-Calgary and Nanaimo-Calgary service is being seen as an opening for WestJet and smaller airlines to expand their passenger service to and from the Island.
“We’re optimistic there’ll be more capacity from WestJet on this particular route, and it certainly creates even more of an opportunity for [low-cost options] Lynx and Flair to build capacity should they choose,” said Geoff Dickson, chief executive of Victoria International Airport.
Air Canada told the Times Colonist it will be redeploying some of its resources as it rebuilds its business in the aftermath of the pandemic, which means suspending some regional routes, including those between Calgary and Vancouver Island destinations Victoria and Nanaimo as of Jan. 16.
“We are continuing to rebuild our business in a prudent and disciplined way which involved looking at every aspect of our network,” the company said in a statement.
Air Canada said it will continue to provide service to Calgary from the Island via Vancouver.
In Victoria, the change will mean the loss of two flights a day, while in Nanaimo, it means losing one flight a day four days a week.
“You never like to see routes disappear,” said Dickson, adding he was told it was too challenging for Air Canada to make the routes profitable now that WestJet has decided to fortify its Calgary hub and pull back from service to and from Central and Atlantic Canada.
“Air Canada will still have a big presence here, but they’re going to focus more on their hubs where they’re stronger, which is Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal,” he said.
Dave Devana, chief executive of the Nanaimo Airport, said the airline industry is still adapting after a significant loss of passengers and revenue during the pandemic.
He said Nanaimo Airport is seeing about 70 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger counts.
He, too, believes there’s room for WestJet, especially, to expand its capacity between the Island and Calgary.
Dickson said the door will also be open for Air Canada if it chooses to bring back those routes or expand others.
“I’m sure it’s a very difficult decision that they’ve had to make, but as it stands right now, their focus is going to be on other markets,” he said. “Could it change? Sure, but I don’t see it in the near term.”
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