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Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline’s overall seat sales in the COVID-19 pandemic are less than 8 per cent of usual levels.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Air Canada Air Canada is cutting more routes in Atlantic Canada and warning of station shutdowns, moves the region’s airports say will further isolate the region’s people and force the shutdown of airports.

The airline said on Tuesday it is suspending all flights to Sydney, N.S., and Saint John on Jan. 11 and until further notice. In addition, the following flights are being halted temporarily: Deer Lake to Halifax; Fredericton to Toronto; Charlottetown to Toronto; and Halifax to Ottawa.

Derrick Stanford, president of the Atlantic Canada Airports Association and chief executive of Saint John Airport, said the cuts are the third round the region has suffered in the pandemic, and will make it harder for the area’s people to take part in the economic recovery when the COVID-19 crisis recedes.

“It further puts the region behind,” Mr. Stanford said by phone. “This will have a huge impact on our region’s economy, on the ability of families to reconnect, on the movement of essential workers and on airport employees and businesses.”

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline’s overall seat sales in the COVID-19 pandemic are less than 8 per cent of usual levels, and the breakdown of Atlantic Canada’s travel bubble combined with seasonal slowdowns make the routes uneconomic to operate.

“This decision was not taken lightly, and we regret the impact on our customers and community partners, but it is increasingly difficult to continue to operate in this challenging environment, without specific financial support from government, with whom we continue to wait for negotiations to start,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said.

Calin Rovinescu, Air Canada’s CEO, said on Nov. 9 he was set to halt service on 95 routes and close nine Canadian regional airport operations, but would wait to see how aid negotiations with the federal government progress. He did not name the routes, but described them as domestic, international and U.S.-based.

Mr. Fitzpatrick said the carrier will also suspend a handful of other routes in January, including Penticton to Vancouver. The cuts represent a “small subset” of the 95 routes Mr. Rovinescu warned could be cut.

Air Canada has already pulled out of eight regional airports and suspended 30 domestic routes, as it posted quarterly losses that total $3.4-billion in the pandemic.

Demand for air travel has plunged amid travel restrictions, border closings and quarantines for travellers.

Brian Pearce, chief economist of International Air Transport Association, said the rollout of vaccines offers hope the industry will begin to recover, but not before the second half of 2021. “It does seem that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said from Geneva on Tuesday, “but we are still in the tunnel and there is quite a way to go before we get out of it.”

Mr. Stanford said the lack of any COVID-19 testing at airports in Atlantic Canada combined with travel restrictions have sent demand for plane seats plunging, making the region an easy target for flight cancellations, even though many Canadians eyed the East Coast as a haven from the pandemic. “It is too hard to get here, and who can put their lives on hold for 14 days to get here?” he said.

Airports in Saint John and Sydney will have no commercial air traffic as of Jan. 11, he said.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. on Nov. 2 indefinitely suspended 100 weekly flights in Atlantic Canada, or 80 per cent of its seat capacity in the region, calling the market “unviable.” The cuts included all flights to and from Moncton, Fredericton, Sydney, Charlottetown and Quebec City.

Allison St-Jean, a spokeswoman for Transport Minister Marc Garneau, said the government is committed to ensuring Canadians continue to have access to “affordable and efficient air transportation options for years to come.”

“We know that major airlines need specific support which is why the government is developing a package of assistance to the Canadian airline industry,” Ms. St-Jean said. “But before we spend one penny of taxpayer money on airlines, we will ensure that Canadians get their refunds, regional communities retain air connections to the rest of Canada and Canadian air carriers maintain their status as key customers of Canada’s aerospace industry.”

Editor’s note: The online version of this story has been corrected to say Air Canada is suspending its Vancouver-Penticton route on Jan. 11. An earlier version incorrectly identified the route as Vancouver-Revelstoke.

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