It seems counter-intuitive, but Air Canada’s recent decision to ground 9,500 of its flights for the months of July and August could prove positive for the Greater Sudbury Airport.
“We haven’t seen a change in schedule yet, although if anything, it may lead to cancelling one of the flights in and out of Sudbury for the next couple of months,” Greater Sudbury Airport director of marketing, excellence and innovation Jean Mathieu Chénier told Sudbury.com.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I’d rather have three flights a day you can count on than five flights a day you can’t count on, which is a greater disruption to passengers than having fewer flights.”
As it stands, passenger traffic is on the rise across Canada, including a spike at the Greater Sudbury Airport, with passenger traffic now hovering at approximately half of its pre-COVID levels, which far outweighs its pandemic lows.
While the Greater Sudbury Airport is small enough that its ability to downsize staff during the pandemic was minimal, larger airports and airlines had a greater capacity to downsize staff to help them weather the financial hardships that accompanied plummeting air travel.
Unable to draw staff back in as quickly as made necessary by increasing passenger traffic, larger airports such as Pearson International Airport in Toronto have suffered backlogs and flight cancellations.
These cancellations trickle down to smaller airports such as Greater Sudbury’s, Chénier said, adding that this has resulted in a scattering of cancellations locally, though he didn’t have numbers due to the airlines reporting independently from the airport.
While “no airport wants to see fewer flights on their schedule,” he said taking a moment to pause and naturally ramp up staffing levels to a point where they can handle more flights might be a better approach and will “do better to build passenger confidence.”
Although Chénier doesn’t have passenger numbers for June yet, the May numbers proved their greatest since the pandemic started affecting travel in early 2020.
In May, approximately 11,000 passengers came through their doors, which far outweighs the 400 passengers they saw in May 2020. During the first year of the pandemic, overall passenger volume dropped by 72 per cent compared to the previous year.
Meanwhile, although Air Canada might drop a flight or two from their Greater Sudbury Airport schedule, Porter Airlines has increased its schedule to accommodate two flights per day from its previous one.
“It’s definitely going in the right direction,” Chénier said of overall operations.
At approximately 11,000, the Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corporation saw roughly the same number of passengers in May as the Greater Sudbury Airport did. Also similar to the local airport, CEO Terry Bos reported the Air Canada decision to ground flights is likely to have a positive impact on their operations via accountability.
“It’s going to alleviate some of the issues that are happening in Toronto and other areas, and therefore, hopefully lead to less last-minute cancellations that we’ve been seeing for the last month to six weeks,” Bos told SooToday.com.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.