NB News: WestJet CEO says province should have airport

From an airline perspective, WestJet CEO Alexis von Honesbroech says having three major airports within two hours of each other doesn’t help get more flights.

“Right now traffic is being split between three different airports, and I understand why cities want to have their own airport, but this also means that demand is subcritical at all three for many destinations,” von Honesbroech told CTV News. Atlantic lead anchor Todd Battis in an interview Wednesday during a visit to Atlantic Canada. “Consolidating them all into one would certainly improve New Brunswick’s connectivity. On the other hand, I completely understand why this is not happening right now, but in the long term maybe there is an opportunity.”

The discussion about 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. By comparison, Halifax Stanfield International Airport (the region’s largest airport) is scheduled to see approximately 100 arriving and departing flights each day this week.

Former Air Canada chief operating officer Duncan Dee agrees with WestJet’s CEO, saying breaking up the small New Brunswick market into multiple airports isn’t helping attract airlines.

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

Dee also points out that the country’s largest airlines no longer fly the small turboprop planes that 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 chief operating officer also notes that New Brunswick has put more effort into tourism in recent years, but says the province’s air service approach is counterproductive. Airports’ attention has been focused on winter flights to sunny destinations, Dee says, which is great for locals, but not great for attracting tourists to New Brunswick.

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

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

“In 2023, the province moved more than 1.1 million passengers,” says MacDonald. “Air service is essential for this region. “We move cargo, merchandise, perishables, as well as passengers, and the 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 population growth is just another example of why these airports are important to their communities, in addition to the jobs they create for their region.

In 2022, New Brunswick published a five-year strategy for the airline sector, which determined that closing any of the province’s existing airports (including the small Bathurst airport) in favor of a centralized hub was not the answer to any related problems. with travel.

“New Brunswick airports operate on a not-for-profit basis,” MacDonald recalls. “They are community corporations and they support the communities they serve. They do an excellent job maintaining their high-quality facilities and providing services to their communities. The economic benefit to the communities they serve is of great value if they are kept separate.”

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

For more New Brunswick news, visit our dedicated provincial page.