The impact of the rural route cuts announced a few weeks ago by Air Canada involves more than just the loss of a few flights.
Toby Leon, president of the Labrador West Chamber of Commerce, said it’s going to make it a lot harder to recruit or retain people since the airline announced it would stop all flights in and out of Wabush Airport.
“We just became infinitely more remote,” he said. “The quality of life drops, the interest in becoming a resident drops. That means we may or may not see more fly-in. It matters to the community and hurts the people who stay and live here.”
He said bringing in and keeping workers in the region has always been a struggle, and this just makes it much harder.
“We just became infinitely more remote. The quality of life drops, the interest in becoming a resident drops. That means we may or may not see more fly-in. It matters to the community and hurts the people who stay and live here.” — Toby Leon
Leon said with the remoteness of the region, air travel is very important, both to the people and to the business community. The closest airport now to Labrador West with flights outside the province is in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, a five to six-hour drive away.
With Air Canada pulling out, that leaves only one airline — Provincial Airlines (PAL) — in Wabush and many of the other affected airports in the province, which Leon said is also worrisome.
Barry Petten, the Progressive Conservative critic for transportation and works and MHA for Conception Bay South, echoed some of Leon’s concerns about the monopoly situation and the effect on communities.
“I don’t know how these airports are going to survive with just one carrier,” Petten said. “That’s not a slight against PAL, but they’ve been given a monopoly, through no fault of theirs. It’s a slim choice for the travelling public.”
He agreed with Leon it can have a trickle-down effect, affecting a number of people and industries.
Petten said it seems like after the announcement was made by Air Canada there were some concerns raised, but since then he hasn’t heard anything.
“They announced all these cuts to rural routes, and what’s going to replace that? Someone needs to speak up on that issue,” he said. “It’s not a big issue if you live next to St. John’s, but to people from the rest of the province it’s a big deal.”
He cited some towns around the province that were built around airports, such as Gander, and the significant impact this will have on them.involve“They have to realize people need to mine the iron ore and to do that they need to live here,” he said. “They need reasons to come here and stay here, and the government needs to realize they have a role in that.”
Evan Careen is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Labrador for SaltWire Network