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Gander leaders upset with Air Canada decision

The Gander International Airport Authority reported its 13th consecutive year of profit, at its May 15 AGM. In 2017, the airport generated $9.3 million in revenue and had a net operating income of $1.3 million.
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Airline pulling back to one daily flight to Halifax this winter

GANDER, N.L. – Air Canada flights from Gander to Halifax will be cut in half this fall.

Running from Oct. 28 – May 1, Air Canada’s winter schedule will see twice-daily flights downsized to one.

In an emailed response, Isabelle Arthur, with Air Canada’s media relations department, said the change was made based on the introduction of larger aircraft.

“Customers and officials of the Gander community have expressed their wish for a larger aircraft on the Halifax-Gander route and Air Canada was able to accommodate the request and introduce the Bombardier 78-seat Q400 for this winter,” read the email.

“It’s forcing passengers to go elsewhere for travel – St. John’s and Deer Lake –  because it becomes terribly inconvenient to fly out of Gander.”

-Gander Mayor Percy Farwell

This will be a 78-seat aircraft, with a schedule that will be timed to connect with Air Canada’s network. It will replace the two flights per day to Halifax – 50-seat DH-300s – currently in use.

Air Canada appears to be committed to operating with the larger aircraft.

“We are evaluating a potential continuation of Q400 service into next summer’s season,” concluded Arthur’s statement. There was no clarification on whether this would be one or two flights per day.

The news hasn’t been well received locally.

Initially the Town of Gander requested the larger aircraft used on similar Air Canada routes.

Mayor Percy Farwell said the smaller DH-300 wasn’t appropriate for the flight route.

“There are weight restrictions, people getting bumped off and other related issues… we expressed concern (about) not using the Q400, scheduling changes and the impact it was having on connectivity through Halifax,” he said.

Farwell said the town’s understanding is the new flight schedules will only affect winter flights, and two flights per day will resume in the summer.

He says the winter format will cause customers to alter travel arrangements. As an example, he said, those conducting business in Halifax will no longer be able to do it as a day trip. Adding, those looking to make connecting flights to Gander, may be forced to overnight in Halifax because their flight didn’t align with the one flight per day.

“It’s forcing passengers to go elsewhere for travel – St. John’s and Deer Lake –  because it becomes terribly inconvenient to fly out of Gander,” he said.

“This move is punitive to Gander, it seems to disregard the loyal customer,” he said. “I guess the travelling public will make up its own mind, but I will caution Air Canada that customer loyalty is important.”

“The winter schedule reduces connectivity, convenience and choice. I proposed to Air Canada a number of ways to serve the Mainland market in a sustainable manner in the winter season. This includes preserving the status quo schedule that our market clearly supports.”

-Reg Wright, Gander International Airport president

Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce chair Rod French said he doesn’t see a single 78-seat flight meeting customer demand.

Based on figures provided to the Chamber by the Gander International Airport, French said the two flights per day have more than 90 per cent capacity.

When aircraft loads exceed 90 per cent, French said, travellers look elsewhere for flights.

“We think Air Canada is looking at this the wrong way. If they are already in excess of 90 per cent capacity on two flights, maybe they should be adding a third flight,” he said. “Maybe the competition will look at this and see this as an opportunity; we certainly encourage WestJet and other carriers to look favorably at that.”

French is hoping the business community and people of central Newfoundland can exert enough pressure to bring about change.

Gander International Airport president Reg Wright wasn’t available for an interview, but he did provide a written statement.

“Schedules and routing are the purview of the airline. We work in partnership with airlines, ensuring they can serve our market in a manner that generates return for their shareholders or owners. We recognize airline pressures such as rising fuel prices, changes in fleet/aircraft availability and prevailing economic conditions,” he stated. “The twice daily Halifax service was very well subscribed, year-round.

“The winter schedule reduces connectivity, convenience and choice. I proposed to Air Canada a number of ways to serve the Mainland market in a sustainable manner in the winter season. This includes preserving the status quo schedule that our market clearly supports.”

Quick facts about Gander International Airport

Total flights in 2017 – 35,733

Passengers for 2017 – 177,532

Itinerant and local flights for May 2018 – 3,651 (source: Statistics Canada)

Supports 1,260 full-time jobs.

It provides $90 million in wages, $140 million in gross domestic product (GDP) and $240 million in economic impact.

Source: Gander International Airport

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