Starting next week, Bearskin Airlines will cease operating its flights to Ottawa out of Region of Waterloo International Airport.
The airline, which has had flights to Ottawa since 2007, will stop operating out of the airport on April 1, said Ron Hell, the airline’s director of marketing. Bearskin currently operates 19 round-trip flights a week at the airport, flying a 19-passenger Fairchild Metroliner. Although the demand for the Waterloo-Ottawa flight has grown steadily over the years, stiff competition in the airline business has meant the airline hasn’t been able to charge enough to cover its costs, Hell said.
In fact, it has had to cut the cost of its flight over that time, he said. ”Last year we carried more passengers between Waterloo and Ottawa than at any other time since we started the service,” Hell said. “Despite significant demand for the service, the consumer is not willing to pay a fare high enough to cover our costs. ”We’re losing money (on the flight), and we just can’t afford to sustain those losses.”
With the cut, the number of flights out of the airport is halved, from up to seven a day down to three: an evening WestJet flight to Calgary, and two American Airline flights to Chicago. In winter,Sunwing offers a charter flight to Cancun as well.
Airport general manager Chris Wood, who learned of the cut just an hour before it was made public, said the news is unquestionably a blow. ”It is significant. Losing flights is never a position we want to be in. They (Bearskin) have really developed a good market. People love them and it’s very popular.” Wood said he hasn’t had a chance to calculate the full impact of the loss of Bearskin, but said it likely represents a loss of $250,000 to $400,000 in revenue for the airport, on a budget of about $4 million.
He said he hopes to be able to attract another airline to provide service to Ottawa, and said the task will be somewhat easier since the airport has 6 ½ years of data on prices and numbers of passengers. He has already contacted Air Canada, WestJet and Porter Airlines to let them know there’s an opportunity to provide service to Ottawa.
”I’m not saying it’ll be easy,” he admitted. ”We seem to be going in the opposite direction of the business plan,” which set a goal of 215,000 passengers by the end of 2014. The airport saw almost 140,000 passengers last year. ”We believe there’s other airlines out there that are very interested in our market, and we’re working hard” to attract them, he said.
American Airlines enjoys a subsidy of up to $1.4 million, which ends in June, but Wood said he is confident Chicago service will continue past June, because those flights are priced profitably and the numbers of passengers on those flights continues to grow.
Ian McLean, president of the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, said the cancellation of the Bearskin service is a definite loss. ”I’ve used it personally quite a bit,” McLean said. ”It was a tremendous service and just made a world of difference.” He could get from his house to Parliament Hill in less than two hours, he said. But the loss isn’t a huge factor in attracting business to the region, he said. “For business travellers, there are lots of ways to get to Ottawa.”
He said he’s optimistic the region, with its growing population and thriving economy, will be able to attract another airline providing Ottawa service, and added that the chamber sees the airport as a valuable asset and supports the region’s investments there.
The airline will offer a full refund to anyone with a ticket for a flight April 1 or later. Bearskin also announced it is cancelling Ottawa-North Bay flights beginning April 1.
The present 3 flights to Sudbury from Timmins are going to be cut back to 1 in the morning to Sudbury and back in the evening.