Newfoundland-based airline set to add Ottawa to flight itinerary

PAL Airlines

While the airline industry continues its struggle to gain altitude in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Newfoundland-based carrier is planning to expand its service from the East Coast to Ottawa.

PAL Airlines is launching a new five-day-a-week service connecting its home base of St. John’s with Moncton, N.B. starting Sept. 21. The airline says the route will be extended to Ottawa once restrictions on travel to Atlantic Canada are lifted.

The new service will operate every day except Tuesday and Saturday, with morning departure times from St. John’s and Moncton. 

“Once the service is extended to Ottawa, passengers travelling west will still benefit from convenient arrival and departure times, while passengers travelling east to Moncton and St. John's will enjoy desirable early evening arrival times,” the company said in a news release.

The carrier added that the new routes “will offer the most efficient travel time between destinations and mitigate the need for passengers to change planes during transit.”

PAL Airlines president Calvin Ash called the new service “an important step forward” for his company, which originally started as a charter airline in the early 1970s and now serves more than 20 destinations in Atlantic and Eastern Canada. 

“This is a great opportunity for PAL Airlines to extend our presence in Atlantic and Eastern Canada and introduce our services to new communities while directly responding to the needs of our customers,” he said in a statement.

Friday’s announcement appears to be a jolt of positive news during a tough time for the Canadian airline industry, which has seen revenues plummet during the pandemic as both business and leisure travel virtually ground to a halt.

Air Canada, the country’s largest carrier, reported a loss of $1.75 billion in the second quarter as revenues dropped 89 per cent year-over-year. Privately owned WestJet, meanwhile, has also slashed about 75 per cent of its flights in response to a major decline in passenger traffic.

Another major carrier that serves Ottawa, Toronto-based Porter, suspended its operations in late March and said earlier this month it plans to resume service on Oct. 7.

While more domestic flights are gradually being put back on the schedule, Ottawa airport authority CEO Mark Laroche told OBJ earlier this year the terminal expects only about 2.5 million passengers to pass through its gates in 2020, down from its original forecast of 5.2 million before COVID-19 hit.

Last month, slightly fewer than 43,000 passengers travelled in and out of the Ottawa airport, which was double June’s tally but still well below the more than 440,000 passengers who used the facility in July 2019.

Laroche said it could be three to five years before passenger volumes at YOW return to pre-pandemic levels, adding the non-profit facility will likely have to hike levies such as airport improvement, terminal and landing fees – which account for more than two-thirds of its revenues – to help make up the difference.