“Unprecedented” may have been the catchphrase for 2020 (closely followed by “you’re on mute”), but it remains true in 2021. These are precarious times for New Brunswick business. We are fortunate to still be seeing lower COVID-19 cases than the rest of Canada. The provincial government’s aggressive approach to limiting travel, including the 14-day quarantine period requirement for domestic travellers coming to the province, has helped keep us safe – and that’s important. However, these restrictions also come at a significant cost to our economy, and we need to ensure that support is in place so that central and western New Brunswick can emerge from this pandemic ready to grow again.
Air Canada suspended flight service as of January 23, 2021 at the Fredericton International Airport (YFC). WestJet have already withdrawn flights from most of Atlantic Canada, and Porter is not flying until at least April. This means that our community will be temporarily without scheduled service.
Airlines cannot be expected to fly empty planes, but local businesses cannot thrive without air access to the world.
Our challenge now, as a community, is to ensure that airlines and government understand that it is vital to resume service at the earliest possible opportunity.
The Fredericton Region is well-positioned to take advantage of the economic recovery – but to do this we will need air service. Immigration and high-tech jobs are essential to the growth and success of Fredericton and convenient air service is critical to meet this goal. In 2019, the convention business contributed over $15-million to the economy and is heavily dependent on the Fredericton International Airport. International students that attend local universities and community colleges rely on the airport, as does 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, which is the largest military facility in Eastern Canada.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines have started to roll out, and if combined with rapid testing, this will mean that soon people should be able to travel more freely. We have all learned to cope in a world where video conferencing is the norm, but it simply can’t replace direct human contact and relationship-building. Whether you want to attend a conference, visit family, provide on-site training to new clients, or meet new team members at one of your satellite offices, we are all eager to see travel return.
The Fredericton International Airport has a track record of success – we grew every year for the past decade – and we will continue to work with our airlines and government partners to ensure that when the time is right, we will be ready to grow again. In the meantime, we encourage businesses to reach out to your MLA and MP today and express the urgent need to preserve airports and air travel in New Brunswick.
Kate O’Rourke is the Manager of Public Relations and Marketing at the Fredericton International Airport Authority