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What you need to know about COVID-19: October 9, 2020
Company will eventually look to expand the route to include Ottawa
Lately, the news around airports has centred on what flights are no longer arriving and departing, with commercial airlines slashing routes in order to keep costs down amidst a global pandemic that’s decimated demand for air travel.
PAL Airlines has faced its own challenges in recent months, but the regional airline headquartered in St. John’s had reason to celebrate at least a little bit Monday. The company launched a new service directly connecting Moncton, N.B., to Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital city. It will operate five days a week — Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Once travel restrictions are lifted to include provinces and territories outside the Atlantic bubble, PAL will look to expand the route to include Ottawa.
“We’re extremely excited,” PAL president Calvin Ash told The Telegram after stepping off the De Havilland Canada DHC-8 plane at St. John’s International Airport. “It’s the culmination of all the hard work of both the management and employees at PAL, working hand-in-hand with both airport authorities in the Greater Moncton airport, as well as St. John’s International.
"These teams have worked very closely together and they are sharing information well.”
PAL announced in late-July it was looking to fill gaps in flight service out of St. John’s. That news came only a few weeks after Air Canada implemented an indefinite discontinuation of multiple routes in Atlantic Canada, including seven in Newfoundland and Labrador. Moncton was also affected, losing its connection to Halifax.
According to Ash, a lot of number crunching went into the decision to launch the new route.
“We obviously looked at a lot of different routes,” he said.
PAL expects a mix of business and leisure travellers to take advantage of the route, which for now will make use of a 50-seat plane. Ash said the airline has the option of using a new Bombardier Q400 with 76 seats as demand dictates. Adding the route also allowed PAL to bring back some employees previously laid off due to the nosedive demand for air travel took early on in the pandemic.
“We took those actions, and now we’re happy to say that a lot of those people have been brought back,” Ash said. “We’ll continue to add as we bring back all of our markets in the coming months.”
St. John’s International Airport Authority CEO Peter Avery was similarly upbeat about the new service.
His airport, like others globally, is taking a big financial hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. August is typically its busiest month, but last month passenger traffic was down 84 per cent (just under 30,000) compared to August 2019 (180,000). Year-over-year, that’s an actual improvement compared to May (95 per cent below the same month the previous year) and June (92 per cent).
The St. John’s airport’s biggest market is traditionally Ontario.
“Obviously, these days are dark days for the aviation industry, and any time we get a new flight ... is certainly a big win — certainly in these days,” said Avery.
The airport authority is working hard on route development, and Avery expects rebuilding passenger traffic will require a lot of collaboration with community stakeholders and government partners.
“The game has really changed in terms of air service going forward as a result of COVID,” he said. “It’ll be paramount and probably our most important initiative as we move forward.”
Ash credited the Atlantic bubble with giving people more confidence and the ability to feel safe when travelling within the region.
“Obviously, these days are dark days for the aviation industry, and any time we get a new flight ... is certainly a big win — certainly in these days." — Peter Avery
“We have had some of our volumes return from the lows that were achieved early on during the pandemic,” he said.
As for future opportunities to expand its service, Ash said for now the focus will be on making the Moncton-to-St. John’s direct flight a success.
“We’ll take it one step at a time,” he said. “There are some additional route networks we are looking at throughout the Maritimes and beyond. But first thing’s first — we’ll get this route up and running.
“Our sales and marketing team are back on the ground in Moncton today and they’re going to continue in the coming weeks and months putting their efforts into ensuring the PAL name is shared throughout the communities and we get the business required to make this route a success. As we continue to do that, we’ll then look at other opportunities that are there in the marketplace.”