Air Canada says it will cut 1,700 jobs as it scales down operations in response to a new wave of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
The 25 per cent reduction in service will also affect 200 employees at Air Canada’s Express carriers, the company said Wednesday morning.
“We regret the impact these difficult decisions will have on our employees who have worked very hard during the pandemic looking after our customers, as well as on the affected communities,” Lucie Guillemette, Air Canada’s executive vice-president and chief commercial officer, said in a statement.
Guillemette said increased travel restrictions by federal and provincial governments have had an immediate impact on the company’s bookings.
With the reduction, Air Canada’s capacity in the first quarter of 2021 will be about 20 per cent of its capacity during the first quarter of 2019, the company says.
“While this is not the news we were hoping to announce this early into the year, we are nonetheless encouraged that Health Canada has already approved two vaccines and that the government of Canada expects the vast majority of eligible Canadians to be vaccinated by September,” Guillemette said.
“We look forward to seeing our business start to return to normal and to bringing back some of our more than 20,000 employees currently on furlough and layoff.”
Atlantic Canada hit hard by cuts
Air Canada notified airports in Atlantic Canada this week that it would cut additional routes in the region, suspending all flights in Gander, N.L., Goose Bay, N.L., and Fredericton until further notice. It also said it was suspending passenger service to Yellowknife on Jan. 23.
The airline said it is contacting affected customers to offer them options such as refunds or alternative travel arrangements.
The cuts come just days after Air Canada’s latest round of service reductions in Atlantic Canada went into effect on Jan. 11.
Monette Pasher, executive director of the Atlantic Canada Airports Association, said in a statement that the repercussions of the service cuts would be felt for years to come in communities in the region.
“We cannot just flip a switch to turn air service back on when we get to the other side of this pandemic,” Pasher said. “We are going to have a long, hard road ahead of us to rebuild air access for our region.”
B.C. strongly affected
Air Canada’s cuts will also strongly impact British Columbia, where flights out of Prince Rupert and Kamloops have been suspended.
Ed Ratuski, managing director of the Kamloops Airport, said he expects the cutbacks to remain in effect through March.
“Our concern is … what kind of impact this reduction in service will have on workers who have to travel by air to support their families locally,” he said.
Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said he was “beyond disappointed” to see the cancellation of the city’s only direct flights to Vancouver. Kamloops is about 250 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.
“When you have places, like the B.C. Lottery Corporation, that have their provincial headquarters in Kamloops, it’s just unfathomable that you would have no air access for them to shuffle employees back and forth,” he said.
Carriers have been wrestling with a slump in demand and passenger confusion following the Jan. 7 introduction of new Canadian rules requiring travellers to test negative for the novel coronavirus before boarding a plane bound for the country.
Privately held WestJet Airlines said last week it would reduce capacity, with schedule cuts that would mean furloughs, layoffs, unpaid leaves or reduced hours for about 1,000 employees.
The federal government is “disappointed by airlines’ decisions to cancel more regional routes,” a spokesperson said by email.
“COVID-19 has led to an unprecedented situation in the aviation sector,” said Allison St-Jean, a press aide for new Transport Minister Omar Alghabra. “We are fully seized with the issue of how hard the air sector has been hit because of COVID-19, and we are committed to providing assistance to Canada’s air sector.”