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A year after consultations, Quebec鈥檚 regional air travel plan still stalled

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From CBC News 鈥 link to source story馃敆

Officials in the Gasp茅 and on the Magdalen Islands anxious for long-term solutions

Josh Grant 路 CBC News 路 January 06, 2022

A year after consultations, Quebec鈥檚 regional air travel plan still stalled
An aircraft marshaller directs a plane on the tarmac at Gasp茅鈥檚 Michel-Pouliot airport. Since Air Canada suspended regional flights in Quebec in 2020, people flying to the Gasp茅, the Magdalen Islands and the North Shore have had limited options. (Radio-Canada)

For people living on the Magdalen Islands, the North Shore and other remote parts of Quebec, air transport is more of a necessity than a luxury.

That鈥檚 why in 2020, when Air Canada indefinitely suspended its regional routes in Quebec (and elsewhere in Canada) the CAQ government said it would intervene.

Jo毛l Arseneau, the Parti Qu茅b茅cois MNA for the Magdalen Islands and the party鈥檚 transport critic says the industry and the people who depend on it are still waiting to hear the plan.

鈥淔or the Magdalen Islands and the lower North Shore, it鈥檚 our lifeline,鈥 said Arseneau.

鈥淩ight now the service is minimal because we鈥檙e not sure what the Quebec government will be doing,鈥 he said. 鈥淸Both] in terms of a program to help regional transport develop and offer good prices but also a regular service.鈥

In June, it will be two years since Air Canada cancelled its regional services and Arseneau says people in his riding are anxious to know what level of service will be provided during the busier spring and summer seasons when people visit family or return home from CEGEP or university.

Last month, he put forward a petition at the National Assembly calling on the province to support a regional transportation co-operative that wants to create a Quebec airline that can offer cheaper flights.

Airplanes bring communities in eastern and northern Quebec food, medication, goods and supplies that keep people fed, local businesses running and provide access to health services that aren鈥檛 available at regional hospitals. Regional flights are also crucial for the tourist industry during the warmer months. 

Arseneau says when Air Canada left, Quebec created a committee to study all of the options for regional air travel and held five months of consultations with the leaders of communities most affected.

He says the airlines that have stepped up to maintain services are waiting to find out if the government plans to subsidize them before they consider expanding their offer.

鈥淭he committee met up until October, 2020 so we were expecting a conclusion by the end of that year or else the beginning of 2021,鈥 he said. 鈥淎nd since then, we鈥檝e been asking the government what its plans are and we still haven鈥檛 had any answers.鈥

Limited options

In 2021, Newfoundland鈥檚 PAL Airlines launched its first flight from Gasp茅 to the Magdalen Islands, joining Pascan Aviation as the only companies offering flights to the Gasp茅, the Magdalen Islands and the North Shore.

The mayor of Gasp茅 and president of the Union des municipalit茅s du Qu茅bec, Daniel C么t茅, says the cost of a ticket is comparable to what it was in the past but the two airlines don鈥檛 fly nearly as often.

鈥淓veryone鈥檚 is kind of in waiting mode when it comes to this plan,鈥 he said. 鈥淲e鈥檙e hoping it will be ambitious.鈥

While PAL Airlines and Pascan Aviation filled in some of the gaps left by Air Canada, C么t茅 says the number of people flying into the regions has taken a nosedive due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and public health measures.

Gasp茅鈥檚 Michel-Pouliot airport used to see 25,000 annual passengers prior to the pandemic. In 2020, 6,300 people passed through the airport and in 2021, there were around 8,500.

Arseneau says the waiting game and the impacts of COVID-19 have stalled economic development.

鈥淚t鈥檚 making the entire industry wary as to develop services or not and this is where it鈥檚 very detrimental to our regions,鈥 he said. 鈥淓verything is kind of stopped right now.鈥

鈥淲hat is needed is support from the government to the municipalities or the corporations that are running airports without having regular traffic.鈥

A year after consultations, Quebec鈥檚 regional air travel plan still stalled
Jo毛l Arseneau is the Parti-Qu茅becois MNA for the Magdalen Islands and the party鈥檚 transportation critic. He says remote regions of Quebec depend on air travel for food, goods and medical services and need the government鈥檚 help to make the industry more sustainable. (Radio-Canada)

Bigger planes, lower costs

While Pascan Aviation and PAL Airlines are already operating in Quebec, a regional transportation co-operative called TREQ says it鈥檚 ready to take a different approach to better serve the province and reduce the cost of flying.

鈥淲hat they want is to offer a service to many of Quebec鈥檚 remote cities and regions,鈥 said Arseneau, 鈥渁 service with larger planes, with lower rates 鈥 all year-round.鈥

He says the co-op already has more than 15,000 members and its business model is based on medium-size airlines in Ontario and British Columbia that have successfully established themselves as the main service providers in remote regions.

TREQ has already secured a loan from the federal government but wants the province to back it as well before launching operations.

Coming soon, says Transport Ministry

Arseneau says along with financial support for existing airlines, he hopes the government鈥檚 plan includes new regulations like price floors and price ceilings.

He says setting a minimum and maximum price for flights within Quebec would prevent bigger airlines like Air Canada from re-entering the market, dropping their prices and putting smaller companies out of business 鈥 something that鈥檚 happened in the past.

Asked where the province is at with its regional air travel plan, the office of Transport Minister Fran莽ois Bonnardel said it鈥檚 鈥渨orking on it and hopes to be able to announce it soon.鈥

The Transport Ministry said the file is complex, especially in the middle of a pandemic, but it says once all of the work is completed it will share the details, which 鈥渨ill be beneficial for Quebecers.鈥

With files from Radio-Canada

Source: https://canadianaviationnews.wordpress.com/2022/01/06/a-year-after-consultations-quebecs-regional-air-travel-plan-still-stalled/

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