Pacific Coastal Airlines will be cancelling certain flights out of the Port Hardy airport in February.
Changes in the schedule affect an early morning mid-week flight and a weekly evening flight between Vancouver and Port Hardy.
The southbound flight #800 at 7:05 a.m. has been cancelled Tuesday through Saturday, and the northbound 6:10 p.m. flight #813, which operated Monday through Friday, was cancelled entirely.
“It’s a business decision,” said Kevin Boothroyd, Pacific Coastal’s Director of Business Development and Corporate Communications.
He added these flights have had historically low passenger numbers and the company was unable to recoup the cost of operations.
“We have two choices – we can either raise all fare prices in the entire market or remove the underperforming flights,” said Boothroyd, adding, “Neither one of those solutions makes the customer happy, but we have to choose one or the other.”
He said they made the decision to remove the underperforming flights rather than raise all of the fare prices in the Port Hardy market.
The changes affect Pacific Coastal’s spring schedule, which runs from Feb. 2 until June 3.
“What we are seeing in this market is that those two flights are affected specifically by the time of year. We get very low passenger load numbers in the winter months,” said Boothroyd.
He said the company will conduct a review and consider restoring the flights to the summer 2018 schedule based on passenger load numbers and if they will be able to recoup the cost of operating those flights.
Port McNeill and District Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director Gaby Wickstrom released a statement on the Chamber’s Facebook page regarding her concern over the flight cancellations.
“This will affect workers, businesses, and managers who need to travel to Vancouver meetings or lower mainland training. This will affect workers travelling to Alberta for work. People who have chosen to live on the North Island. This will affect the tourism industry as, at the moment, there is no concrete date for the schedule to resume to former service levels,” wrote Wickstrom in the Jan. 9 statement.
In an interview with the North Island Gazette, Wickstrom said she was first notified of the cancellations by the wife of someone who is a shift worker in camp.
“They were the ones who let me know it would directly affect them coming in and out,” said Wickstrom, adding that the Chamber’s position is that Pacific Coastal has chosen the wrong dates and flights to cancel.
She noted that many people who live on the North Island work elsewhere or need to leave for training, and without the early morning, mid-week and evening flights available, their options are limited.
Wickstrom said the schedule could also affect tourism to the North Island, as the cancellations will remain in place until at least June 3, while the North Island tourism season kicks off in May.
“We recognize if they are operating at a loss some changes need to be made, we are trying to work with them to find the best solution,” said Wickstrom.
She said the Chamber is preparing a case for service based on feedback from businesses and the community to “at least get something that is much more favourable for users on the North Island.”
Boothroyd noted it was a difficult decision for Pacific Coastal to make.
“We have to structure our offerings to meet the needs of the passengers who are requesting the flights,” he said. “We are very proud to be the major supplier to and from smaller communities in the province and to connect them to the bigger centres like Vancouver, but we can’t maintain service schedules to suit the needs of a smaller group if we are operating at a loss.”
Pacific Coastal has added two additional afternoon flights to their schedule on Wednesdays and Fridays, which include the southbound #802 at 12:20 p.m. and the northbound #811 at 3:15 p.m.
“It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t for us from a community perspective,” said Boothroyd, “But we can’t continue to operate flights that put us in the red.”