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A Telegram editorial last week (“New norms for travel,” Jan. 15), discussed how the pandemic and the technological response to it have changed the economics of air travel in Canada, perhaps permanently. Nevertheless, recent route eliminations by Air Canada and WestJet have provoked calls for government aid to the airlines and to airports.
Governments have been discouraging people from travelling and have made travel more complicated. What sense is there for airlines to fly jets that are less than half full? The airlines bleed money and the atmosphere fills up with greenhouse gases.
It makes no sense for governments to provide aid to airlines and airport authorities as if the pandemic has caused only a temporary upset to the industry.
The editorial made two salient points about the changes to the economics of air travel. First, business travel for face-to-face meetings of all kinds has been replaced by electronic communications, with little loss of productivity. This phenomenon will persist after the pandemic ends. Second, while recreational travel will recover when the pandemic ends, the pricing of it will change. The cross-subsidization of recreational airline seats by higher-priced seats purchased by business travellers will diminish. In Canada, especially on secondary routes, it will cost more for non-business travellers to fly between outlying locations and large cities, whether for recreational, medical or educational purposes. All this will play out during a period when it is imperative to decarbonize the economy — by 2030, not by 2050 as apologists for the petroleum industry like to pretend.
It makes no sense for governments to provide aid to airlines and airport authorities as if the pandemic has caused only a temporary upset to the industry. We need to redesign travel for the post-COVID, post-fossil fuel era. In the future, high-speed air travel will be a costly luxury, as it was in the 1940s and 1950s. We will need high-speed trains to move travellers between large Canadian cities.
Elsewhere, including Atlantic Canada, a combination of express buses between principal centres and local bus routes to carry travellers to those principle centres will be the affordable and sustainable way for people to travel efficiently. In Newfoundland, imagine an express bus running from Deer Lake to St. John’s, stopping only in Grand Falls and Gander, and local trunk routes connecting to those stops (St. Anthony, Deer Lake, Port aux Basques; Deer Lake, Fortune, St. John’s, etc.) As charging infrastructure spreads across Canada, high-speed trains and buses will eventually all be electric-powered.
Will this be so much slower and more inconvenient than air travel around Newfoundland? Think of the time and expense involved in getting to and from airports, arriving an hour before flight departure, and then securing ground transport at the other end.
A high-speed express bus service on the island of Newfoundland would allow recreational, medical and educational travellers who cannot afford private or rental automobiles to reach their destinations safely and economically.
Before we throw more public money at faltering airlines, let us consider rebuilding our transportation infrastructure to make it affordable and environmentally sustainable, even if surface travel is a little slower than air travel.