After Air Canada announced plans to discontinue regional flights between Cranbrook and Calgary by the end of April, the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce has been working to prove to the company that a demand for that service remains in the area.
Serge Corbeil, the director of government relations of the Western Region for Air Canada, met with members of the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, July 4, to discuss the service cancellation and answer questions from concerned citizens.
Chamber president Jason Fast said that he thinks it’s great that Air Canada came down for a discussion and that it’s “encouraging” that they’ve been working with airport manager Tristen Chernove, who has also worked to ensure that Cranbrook is not forgotten by Air Canada.
“I think that it was important for them to hear from our business community and we did a survey that got a pretty big response,” said Fast. “So looking forward to continuing to have those discussions with Air Canada and trying to improve that service; first of all getting that service back to Calgary but also just improving our service options.”
The Chamber surveyed 600 people in Cranbrook and showed that, for example, nearly 400 people reported using the Air Canada service between Cranbrook and Calgary in the last 12 months for personal travel, with further nearly 300 using it for work travel. Around 400 people reported using the service between 0 to 9 times per year.
Over 350 people said that the other option to get to and from Calgary was to drive, with only 50 saying the other option was to fly an other route. More than half of those surveyed said that the shortage of flight options between Cranbrook and Calgary would affect their ability to conduct business.
“We’ve heard a lot from our local businesses here and there is a demand here for air travel,” said Fast. “I think that our goal is to listen to our members and to take those concerns and bring that to the attention of companies like Air Canada and show that there is a demand here.”
Some of the factors that drove Air Canada to make their decision to discontinue their Cranbrook/Calgary service included the introduction of WestJet to the Canadian Rockies International Airport, which drove ticket costs and demand down, as well as Air Canada phasing out their Beech aircraft as they modernize their fleet.
The Beech is a smaller craft which suited the smaller demand for Cranbrook, without it, they don’t have a suitable sized plane for the demand they see in Cranbrook.
Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski has also been working to keep Cranbrook on Air Canada’s radar. He put a petition in to the House of Commons, which was then forwarded to Minister of Transport Marc Garneau.
“[The petition] was aimed at [Garneau], encouraging him to pick up the phone to phone the head of Air Canada and say this is of concern to the riding,” Stetski said.
Stetski added that they are still awaiting Garneau’s response, but he feels that with the petition, and the work that the Chamber and Cranbrook’s business and tourism communities are doing he thinks they will see a restoration of service between Calgary and Cranbrook with Air Canada.
“I think the message is we need to make sure they don’t forget about us,” Stetski said. “We need to keep the pressure on, keep pushing. They’re obviously not there yet, they say that they’re also not out of it completely yet.”
Stetski also highlighted the great work Chernove has done as airport manager.
“Tristen has been a great manager here at the airport and so the cliental have built up to a point where I think that we can continue or should have two airlines flying between here and Calgary,” Stetski said. “So I appreciate the fact that WestJet is still there but I do think there’s room for Air Canada to start flying that route again but we have to keep up the pressure so that they keep us in mind.”
Corbeil said Air Canada is looking into a continuation of the service over the next five to ten years.
“We’re actively looking into it, there’s been a number of discussions with Jazz,” Corbeil said. “There’s been a lot of number crunching that’s been happening, we’re looking at different scenarios, price points, obviously having an aircraft to do it, because right now we have to take an aircraft from somewhere else. In terms of the gauge of aircraft, the size of aircraft that could service the market.”