STORY CONTINUES BELOW THESE SALTWIRE VIDEOS
People looking to fly in or out of Newfoundland and Labrador this summer will continue to have their options limited compared to the past, and it’s a situation that may be slow to change, airport and tourism officials say.
Lisa Bragg, Director of Business Development and Marketing with the St. John’s International Airport Authority, said it’s a well-known story the COVID-19 pandemic affected airports around the world, and St. John’s is no exception.
“We’re still very much in our recovery phase and we’ve rejigged our strategy around air travel,” she said.
“We’re working on a number of things, and a priority is increasing connectivity.”
Bragg said one thing they have been working on is trying to get an international connection back to the airport, which it hasn’t had since 2019 when the Air Canada flight to London was nixed because the Boeing 737 MAX passenger airliner was grounded.
“It’s a very competitive market,” she said. “There’s a lot of efforts coming out of our airport with our airline partners, to turn over every rock and have lots of different conversations, traditional and non-traditional, to try to work towards getting the connectivity back. I think it’s fair to say that is going to be slow coming back.”
Bragg said airlines are also still in a recovery phase and while they are rebuilding international connections in hubs, it may take a bit to get to St. John’s. Halifax, for example, has three times the number of passengers as St. John’s, she said, and for airlines choosing where to go and what risks to take, all these factors really weigh in.
“That’s not to say we’re not working very, very hard, it’s just managing expectations with the traveling passengers in the market,” she said.
“It’s not an easy puzzle to put back together with airline staff shortages and aircraft they have to put on the most feasible and productive routes. They’re putting them back in the busiest parts first. We’re a piece of that puzzle, but we will not be put together for a while.”
Deborah Bourden, the chair of Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, said at a recent tourism conference access to the province came up many times, and is the biggest issue facing the tourism industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“We recognize as an association that access is absolutely the biggest issue and biggest concern to the tourism industry,” she said.
It’s becoming clear there is an issue that has no simple solution, she said, echoing some of Bragg’s comments about the struggle’s airlines are facing.
“Lack of pilots, lack of flight attendants, lack of everything. It’s evident to anyone who travels, you can see the differences in airports.”
Bourden said the tourism industry, which is the lifeblood of many rural communities, obviously relies on access to the province heavily, and it’s an issue they’ve been speaking to all levels of government, and the airports, about.
“It concerns the whole industry and it’s something everyone is trying to work on,” she said. “I don’t know how we can get creative enough that we have solutions for these problems. I know the airports are looking under every rock. My understanding and the conversations that we have had with them as an association is there’s just not a lot of answers.”
Bourden said while they’re hopeful something can be done to improve access but, like Bragg, she doesn’t expect any big changes any time this season.