Did Canada’s Big Airlines Cut Enough Flights During The Pandemic?

One of the most conspicuous impacts of the coronavirus on aviation has been its decimation of flight schedules. The last year or so has seen widespread cancellations due to the restrictions and drops in demand brought about by the pandemic. However, the question has recently arisen as to whether Canadian carriers should have cut even more flights.

Porter Airlines Dash 8
Porter Airlines Chair Donald Carty believes that Canada’s larger carriers should have made more cuts.     Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Not enough cancellations?

In an interview with Bloomberg, Donald Carty recently revealed that he believes Canada’s larger airlines could have cut more flights last year. Carty, who is the Chair of Canadian regional carrier Porter Airlines, argued that the likes of Air Canada and WestJetprobably flew more than made economic sense” at the peak of the crisis last year.

His position is based on the fact that a lack of initial government support meant that the flights that did operate couldn’t always cover their costs. He explained to Bloomberg that:

My bet would be, if you talk to the CEO at Air Canada and the CEO at WestJet, (…) they might have been better off to ground more flights. (…) They’ve been flying around with airplanes that are far from full, and not sufficiently full to pay for the operation.

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Air Canada Airbus A220
Carty argues that carriers may have flown more than made sense. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

A contrasting approach to the US

Regarding the recovery of commercial aviation in the country, Carty contrasted Canada’s approach with that of the neighboring US. He added that:

The US government took the approach that they didn’t want the airlines laying off any employees, so they offered the airlines financial support. And in return, the airlines agreed to no layoffs. So an awful lot of the money the US airlines got flowed directly to the employees. And once the employees were locked in, they became a fixed cost for the airline.”

However, with the Canadian government not having offered such widespread and instant support. This forced the country’s airlines to ground flights, and, in turn, to make job layoffs. The difficulty is finding the right balance in terms of keeping as many employees onboard as possible while only operating flights that sufficiently cover their costs.

WestJet Boeing 737-76N C-GRWS
WestJet, the second-largest Canadian airline, laid off an additional 400 pilot jobs just over a month ago. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Porter isn’t currently flying

While Mr Carty has accused Canadian carriers of not cutting enough flights, this certainly can’t be said for his own airline. Indeed, in March 2020, Porter decided to temporarily suspend its operations on a company-wide scale. Carty told Bloomberg that:

We decided that, as the border was closed, access to Atlantic Canada was closed, and many of our other short haul flights had driving as an alternative, we needed to preserve this airline, for our team members and our guests to come back to. And so we grounded the entire airline.”

Porter Airlines Dash 8
Porter grounded its entire fleet in March 2020. Photo: Getty Images

Multiple delays to Porter’s resumption

The plan was that this suspension would last three months. However, as the pandemic has progressed, Porter has rescheduled its resumption several times. For now, it is aiming to lift off once again in June, 15 months after the initial suspension. Carty added:

We are in talks, as other airlines have been with the government, around how the government can help airlines get back on their feet. And I have no doubt Porter will be back on its feet, as soon as we see the traffic strengthen in Canada. And we’re hoping that the summer will be that time.”

It will be interesting to see how commercial aviation’s recovery pans out in Canada, particularly as we enter the traditionally busy summer period. Of course, business travel will likely recover much slower. As such, it will be key that airlines can take advantage of the pent-up demand for leisure travel, which may lead to a boom on holiday routes.

Do you agree with Mr Carty’s sentiments that Canadian carriers would have been better off canceling more flights at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic? How do you foresee Canadian aviation’s recovery panning out? Let us know your thoughts and predictions in the comments.