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Letter: Another closed door to the province

['<p>WestJet has chosen Fredericton, New Brunswick&nbsp;as the destination for the first expansion of its Encore service into eastern Canada.</p>']
WestJet has moved its direct flight to the U.K. from St. John’s to Halifax, frustrating some passengers in N.L. who used the service.

As a Newfoundlander living in London, I was extremely disappointed to learn that the direct St. John’s to London Gatwick flight was moved to Halifax, as this was one of the only affordable gateways to our province from Europe.

WestJet’s justification was that there wasn’t enough local demand to support three daily flights to Europe from St. John’s, which is accurate in a sense, but also deceptive, as this flight was never intended to be a flight from St. John’s to London; it was intended to be a stopover for people travelling from North America to Europe.

This stopover brought many benefits to the Newfoundland and Labrador economy, as many people on their way across the Atlantic would make a stopover in our province, spending their money on hotel nights, restaurants, local tours and pubs. N.L. businesses had additional connections to Canada and Europe as a result of this increase in traffic.

This brings me to Iceland. Like N.L., Iceland is halfway between Europe and the U.S.A., with large airport facilities, offering untouched landscapes and authentic people. In 2009, Iceland was in the midst of a recession that devastated its economy. To diversify, they focused on becoming a transatlantic stopover by improving transport links to Europe and U.S.A. offering discounted landing fees and promoting their country in several low-cost marketing campaigns run by local Icelanders.

Since Iceland began this strategy, the number of passengers flying through Keflavik Airport has reached 8.75 million a year (versus 1.6 million at YYT), compared to 1.8 million in 2009 (a 486 per cent increase in eight years), and foreign visits to the country reached 2.2 million last year versus 493,000 in 2009 (a 448 per cent increase). They now have non-stop flights to destinations all over Europe and the U.S.A., reaching as far as Israel and Los Angeles. Plus, 11.4 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product comes from travel and tourism.

From my rough estimates, with information provided on the St. John’s Airport and Keflavik Airport websites, landing a full 737 plane costs roughly 75 per cent more in St. John’s versus in Iceland. If we can make this rate the same or less and provide other incentives, we could easily target fast-growing airlines such as EasyJet, Norwegian AirShuttle, Canada’s Jetlines and others to set up bases in the province connecting the European and North American market (approximately 803 million people in size). This will also provide N.L.ers and businesses with an affordable way to travel. If we base the drop-in costs off Iceland, we should expect flights to the mainland for less than $100 return and to Europe for $300 return.

We are a natural stopover on the way across the Atlantic (think of Gander in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s). Focusing our energy on making N.L. a transatlantic stopover and tourist destination not only diversifies our economy; new flights that come with it allow other local businesses easier access to new international markets (especially with the new CETA agreement).

It is not out of the question that we become a transatlantic stopover with flights to Germany, France, Portugal and throughout the U.S.A. Plus, with increased awareness of the province, we can sell other local products, as Iceland did, to the European and American markets.

Luke Power
London, U.K.
Originally from St. John’s

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