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The recent suspension of air travel and regional flights has cut off smaller communities across the country.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

One of the shared values that defines what it means to be Canadian is our readiness to come to each other’s aid in times of trouble. This galvanizing national trait has been on ample display during the pandemic – from the courage and selflessness of front-line workers to countless individual acts of generosity and compassion.

As the second COVID-19 wave gains momentum, Canadians know that a hard winter lies ahead. Moving through this next phase, Canadians will be looking to the federal government to deliver real support for an industry that provides thousands of good-paying jobs for hard-working middle-class families. For every airline job saved, 18 more are saved or created in related economic sectors. Workers in this sector stand with the federal government and provinces as they look to help an industry that generates billions of dollars in economic returns and connects Canadians from coast to coast to coast and beyond.

The recent suspension of air travel and regional flights has cut off smaller communities across the country. When the regional aviation sector in Canada is hurting, we all hurt. This means much more than the fact that planes cannot fly. It is a rupture in the very connective tissue of Canada. It means that grandparents in Penticton can’t visit their grandkids in Halifax without undergoing a two-week quarantine. It means that small business owners in Northern Ontario or Kelowna have to close because tourists can’t fly in. It means it’s harder for families in Fort McMurray to pay their mortgages on time because jobs that relied on the aviation sector are on hold.

These impacts have served as a stark reminder of the risks of small community economic exclusion and an uneven recovery. As a former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador and federal minister and as the CEO of Chorus Aviation – a homegrown, Canadian-owned company and global leader in regional aviation – we understand this better than most. We know that for Canada and Canadians to prosper after the pandemic we have to be sure that this pillar of our society and economy makes it through to the other side.

With 80 years of experience in regional air service, a comprehensive global air network and a track record of safety, Chorus Aviation has served approximately 60 Canadian communities, run more than 700 daily flights and covered more territory than any other Canadian operator.

But when the airline industry contracts, smaller communities are hit hardest. Without service in these regions, local businesses, academia and tourism cannot survive.

We know that our success is built on happy, safe customers. In addition to accepting that regional air services are essential during this chaotic time, the federal government must also create an environment that allows passenger travel to resume safely and affordably – supporting travellers means supporting the industry.

Passenger demand for air service will only recover when people are confident that their health can be protected, without significant travel disruptions due to lengthy quarantine times. A national COVID-19 testing regime that uses scientifically based procedures to help facilitate the safe movement of passengers is required and will allow an improved application of any quarantine restrictions. More pilot programs to safely test an alternative to the two-week quarantine, similar to the ones in Calgary and Toronto and with Newfoundland’s rotational workers, are sorely needed across the country. The balance between health and safety and day-to-day travel – and therefore restored confidence – will only be achieved through a strong, national testing regime.

While companies such as Chorus Aviation benefited from the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, the government and its institutions must lower fees to enable competitive pricing for consumers. This was the case even before the pandemic struck, making the situation for regional air operators extremely challenging. Today, their future is very uncertain.

In addition to high air security charges, NAV Canada has increased fees 30 per cent, and many airport authorities have followed suit. Such costs are hurting already struggling airlines and adding to higher ticket prices for Canadians. The government should urgently consider assisting these parties in the rollback of the most recent fee increases.

These and other long-term solutions will ensure traveller confidence is raised, convenient but safe solutions at the borders and competitive and regionally responsive services for air travellers in Canada.

In Canada, we don’t leave anyone behind. Air travel is a lifeline in our small and regional communities. We need to act smartly and quickly to support the regional aviation sector. Doing so helps strengthen regional economies, bolster employment and provide important momentum for the overall recovery from the pandemic. This would be a valuable first step in an effort to improve the regulatory and cost structure affecting regional air services, allowing them to be more competitive and to provide the affordable and seamless access to the worldwide aviation network all Canadians need. Even more, it gives us an opportunity to build Canadian airlines back better.

The Honourable Brian V. Tobin, P.C., O.C., is vice-chair of BMO Financial Group. He served as federal fisheries and oceans minister from 1993-1996, premier of Newfoundland and Labrador from 1996-2000 and federal industry minister from 2000-2002.

Joe Randell is the president and chief executive officer of Chorus Aviation Inc.

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