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Airport, airline officials react to WestJet CEO's comments about one major N.B. airport

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From an airline perspective, WestJet CEO Alexis von Honesbroech says having three major airports all within two hours of one another isn’t helping land more flights.

“Right now you are splitting the traffic across three different airports, and I understand why the cities want to have their own airport, but this also means that the demand is subcritical in all three of them to many destinations,” von Honesbroech told CTV News Atlantic lead anchor Todd Battis in a sit down interview on Wednesday during a visit to Atlantic Canada. “Consolidating them all into one would certainly improve the connectivity for New Brunswick. On the other hand I fully understand why this is not happening at this point in time, but in the long run maybe there is an opportunity.”

The discussion of the need for three major airports in the province (located in Saint John, Fredericton, and Moncton) is nothing new to New Brunswickers.

Some of the province’s airports offer no more than a handful of flights per day. In comparison, Halifax Stanfield International Airport (the region’s largest airport) is slated to see roughly 100 flights arriving and departing each day this week.

Former Air Canada COO Duncan Dee agrees with the WestJet CEO, and says slicing New Brunswick’s small market across multiple airports isn’t helping attract airlines.

“The only time of year that any of those airports make sense on their own is probably the two, maybe three months in the summer peak when virtually every flight that is operated in Canada on the domestic market is full,” Dee believes.

Dee also points out the nation’s larger airlines no longer fly the small turbo prop aircrafts New Brunswickers used to fly more regularly.

“It’s a recipe for disaster in terms of air services to the province,” he said.

The former COO also notes New Brunswick has put more of an effort into tourism in recent years, but says the province’s air service approach is counterproductive. The focus of airports has been on winter flights to sunny destinations, says Dee, which is great for locals, but not for getting tourist into New Brunswick.

While airlines support the idea of a central major hub, airport officials have a different take on the matter.

Nadia MacDonald, executive director of the Atlantic Canada Airports Association, says the airports in the province are doing a great job in boosting tourism and moving and serving passengers in New Brunswick.

“In 2023 the province moved over 1.1 million passengers,” says MacDonald. “Air service is essential to this region. We move cargo, goods, perishables, as well as passengers and cities around these airports have established businesses that have been there for years.”

MacDonald also highlighted the growth seen in New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada as a whole. She says the population growth is just another example as to why these airports are important to their communities, on top of the jobs they create for their region.

In 2022, New Brunswick released a five-year Air Sector Strategy, which determined closing any of the province’s existing airports (including the small airport in Bathurst) in favour of one centralized hub wasn’t the answer to any travel related issues.

“New Brunswick’s airports are operated as non-profits,” reminds MacDonald. “They are community-based corporations and they support the communities in which they serve. They do an excellent job of maintaining their high-quality facilities and servicing their communities. The economic benefit to the communities that they serve, there is a huge value in keeping them separate.”

MacDonald says the province is seeing roughly 84 per cent of the travel numbers seen before the pandemic.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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