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Air Canada will lay off more than 1,500 people and suspend service on several U.S. and international routes amid a lack of demand for air travel in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 17 temporary route suspensions, including Toronto to Fort Myers, Fla., Boston and Dublin will be phased in beginning on Feb. 12 and last until at least April 30, a spokesman for Montreal-based Air Canada said in an e-mail.

The cuts will temporarily eliminate 1,500 unionized jobs and an unspecified number of management positions, Peter Fitzpatrick said.

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The route suspensions are among dozens Air Canada has implemented since the summer. Air Canada and other domestic carriers recently agreed to the federal government’s request they suspend all flights to Mexico and the Caribbean until April 30 to try to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Leisure carriers Sunwing Airlines, Air Canada Rouge and Air Transat suspended normal operations as a result.

The suspensions to sun destinations were accompanied by tougher travel measures, including a plan to require returning travellers to be tested for COVID-19 on arrival and quarantine at a hotel, at their own expense, for three days while awaiting the results. Anyone who tests positive must quarantine at a government-designated facility, while those who test negative can self-isolate at home. Travellers are subject to monitoring and enforcement of the rules.

Canada’s borders have been closed to most non-Canadians, and anyone flying to Canada must present a negative COVID-19 test before they will allowed to board the flight.

Air Canada has laid off more than 20,000 people – more than half its work force – since the pandemic took hold last March. The airline is burning through $15-million a day, and lost $3.4-billion in the first nine months of 2020 as ticket sales fell by almost 90 per cent.

Air Canada said in November it was poised to slash routes and close airport operations, but would hold off pending the progress of aid talks with the federal government. Ottawa has yet to announce any sector-specific aid for the aviation industry. Air Canada has responded by cutting service to save money, including closing operations in Saint John, Yellowknife and other domestic airports.

The federal government said any taxpayer aid to the airlines will come with conditions: Customer refunds for cancelled flights, retaining and reinstating domestic regional routes, and protecting aviation jobs.

“We continue to emphasize this in our ongoing conversations with the airlines,” said Katherine Cuplinskas, a spokeswoman for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, in an e-mail. “In a country as vast as Canada, it’s essential we maintain connections between people and our communities.”

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The air sector has received more than $1.7-billion in emergency wage subsidies, and Ottawa’s fall economic statement included more than $1-billion for airports and small airlines, Ms. Cuplinskas said. “We remain committed to supporting Canadians airlines and people who work in the air sector during this unprecedented and difficult time for the industry.”

Here are the Air Canada routes that will be suspended by Feb. 18:

  • Toronto routes: Fort Myers; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Denver; LaGuardia (New York); Dublin, Sao Paolo and Bogota.
  • Montreal routes: Boston; LaGuardia and Bogota.
  • Vancouver routes: Seattle; London and Narita, Japan.

Additionally, Air Canada will delay the start of Toronto-Dubai and Toronto-Hong Kong flights, and prolong the halt of Toronto-Tel Aviv service.

Air Canada was scheduled to fly to Boston from Toronto 16 times in February, down from 206 flights in February, 2020, according to Cirium, an aviation consultancy. The carrier’s February schedule included 12 flights to Sao Paolo from Toronto, compared with 28 in February, 2020.

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