Air Canada’s announcement today that it will be cancelling flights from Cranbrook to Calgary may not be the bad news it seems at first blush.
For starters, councillor Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff pointed out that Air Canada’s decision was based on economic feasibility, but it appears West Jet will continue providing the Cranbrook/Calgary service.
Second, and more importantly for Castlegar, the reworking of Western Canadian flights may dramatically speed a years-long process focussed not just on more reliable air service for Castlegar, but also a cornerstone of the city’s economic development strategy.
In a press release issued today, Air Canada announced, “Air Canada today announced it will boost capacity on regional routes across Western Canada this spring as it deploys more state-of-the-art Bombardier Q-400 Next Gen aircraft.”
Mayor Bruno Tassone said this is absolutely a positive development for Castlegar.
"It's just a matter of talking to Air Canada to find out if they're be flying the Q-400s into Castlegar, because we don't yet know if they will. Pilots would also have to be trained on our RNP," Tassone said. "But absoultely, this brings us one step closer (to our goals)."
As Heaton-Sherstobitoff described it, this speeds a city initiative considerably, namely getting an RNP (Required Navigation Performance) that will allow for landings and take-offs at/from the West Kootenay Regional Airport with a lower cloud ceiling and in inclement weather.
“Well, it basically flips it around for us,” she said. “We heard Transport Canada and Nav Canada will be looking at approving an RNP procedure for us in 2020, then we were going to approach our air carriers and lobby them to start using aircraft equipped to take advantage of the new technology. That was to be our Phase II.
“It takes an entire huge step out of the process for us.”
It could also be argued that having the existing hard equipment in place will serve as added impetus for federal authorities for approve RNP for Castlegar. There a possibility, as well, that more pilots trained in RNP procedures in multiple landing terrains will speed the process of training pilots to use the system to land in Castlegar, which has often been named one of the most challenging air terrains to navigate.
Increased reliability will, theoretically, make the West Kootenay Airport lands more attractive to developers, increasing the city’s economic diversity and tax base.
The statement by Air Canada regarding its decision to halt Cranbrook/Calgary air service is below in its entirety:
“Air Canada will be discontinuing regional flights between Cranbrook and Calgary effective April 29. Flights between Cranbrook and YVR will continue to be operated two times daily with two 78-seat Q-400 aircraft, and the flights are schedule to connect to flights to and from the YVR hub.
“Air Canada’s regional flights in Western Canada will be operated exclusively by Jazz as part of our new agreement, and the smaller aircraft currently flying from Cranbrook-Calgary are being phased out of the regional fleet in Western Canada as we begin modernizing the regional fleet.
“We review all of our routes on a regular basis, and our scheduling decisions are commercially based. The Cranbrook-Calgary route did not perform at a level that would make commercial sense for us to continue operating.
“This was a difficult decision to make. The factors we look at include demand between the two cities, the connections being made at the hub, aircraft availability, overall profitability, and in this case, whether the market can sustain a larger aircraft (with the Beech aircraft being phased out as we begin modernizing the fleet) among other economic factors.”