The province's airports have been dealt another blow with the announcement that Air Canada will suspend all flights to Fredericton International Airport as of Saturday, Jan. 23.
Air Canada confirmed the news in a statement Tuesday.
"We continue to experience stifled demand due to COVID-19 and ongoing travel restrictions and quarantine requirements," Pascale Déry, Air Canada's director of communications for Quebec, Eastern Canada and Europe, said in an email.
"As a result, we are suspending until further notice all passenger flights to Fredericton, beginning Jan. 23."
Déry said the decision was not taken lightly.
"We regret the impact on our customers and communities, but it is increasingly difficult to continue to operate in this challenging environment," she said, noting Air Canada's overall network capacity is currently down about 80 per cent from 2019.
"We are still operating Montreal-Moncton and Toronto-Moncton."
Air Canada also announced the following Atlantic Canada flight suspensions Tuesday, effective Jan. 23, including Gander-Halifax, Goose Bay-Halifax and St. John's-Toronto
Air Canada will continue to evaluate and adjust its route network as required in response to the effects of the pandemic and travel restrictions, she said.
The Fredericton flight suspension is just the latest blow to New Brunswick's airports.
On Dec. 8, the airline announced it was suspending all flights out of the Saint John Airport and all Toronto flights out of the Fredericton airport indefinitely, starting Jan. 11, because of the second wave of the pandemic.
The last flight out of the Saint John Airport departed on Monday.
Airlines need support, airport CEO says
Fredericton International Airport CEO Johanne Gallant said Air Canada's decision is not surprising, given how deeply the air travel sector has been affected by pandemic restrictions.
"These are extremely difficult times for airlines, and we know that this was not an easy decision for Air Canada to make," Gallant told CBC News in an email Tuesday.
"Federal and provincial government-imposed travel restrictions are significantly impacting the air sector and support is needed for airlines to get through the pandemic."
Gallant said the airport remains operational and will continue to serve the region for "non-passenger-related activity."
"We look forward to a resumption in passenger service as soon as possible and remain focused on our region's economic recovery."
Businesses 'hopeful this is temporary'
News of Air Canada's decision to suspend operations in Fredericton was "discouraging" but not entirely unexpected, the CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce said.
Krista Ross said Air Canada informed her of their decision on Tuesday, and she also received a phone call from an Air Canada senior executive thanking the chamber for its continuing support.
"It's been a difficult year for business since everything got started with the pandemic, and this is just another challenge they will be facing," Ross said in an interview Tuesday.
"They definitely understand that businesses need to make difficult decisions, but unfortunately, this one has a broad impact on our community."
Ross said it will take some time to assess the full impact of the decision on the city's business community and the chamber's 1,017 business members.
"We'll have a better handle on that in the coming days, but it definitely will affect some of the businesses that operate out of the airport. And it will impact any businesses that still have a need to travel in and out of our communities."
In the meantime, Ross said, she is "very hopeful" the suspension is temporary.
"We've been told they are leaving the flights in the system until April 12, so that tells us …. they'll be monitoring the situation, and it will depend on what happens between now and then" in terms of health outcomes and travel restrictions, she said.
"So to me, that's a positive go-forward plan," Ross said. "We're anticipating that with the rollout of the vaccine and as things calm down, hopefully we'll be able to welcome Air Canada back to our airport and reinstate those flights."