Smaller B.C. airlines stop flights to slow spread of COVID-19

Pacific Coastal Airlines shuts down all operations while Harbour Air axes its U.S. flights while reducing flight frequency to B.C. destinations

Pacific Coastal Airlines is shutting all operations | Pacific Coastal Airlines

What happened: Smaller B.C.-based airlines are cutting some routes and in some cases shutting down all operations to slow the spread of COVID-19 as provincial health officials urge British Columbians to avoid being in confined spaces with others, and to practice "social distancing," which is essentially to stay about two metres from other people. 

Why this matters: It makes transportation more difficult around the province but may help in slowing the spread of the virus. 

Pacific Coastal Airlines announced March 20 that it will suspend operations as of March 24, and that it plans to resume scheduled operations on May 3, if conditions allow. `

Harbour Air has been reducing its flight operations but is still flying to many of the B.C. communities in its network. It has halted its two round-trip flights per weekday to Seattle as well as its one roundtrip flight to Seattle on Sunday as a result of the federal government closing its border with the U.S. to all but essential travel as of midnight on Saturday. Those cancellations are so far set to be until May 1.

Harbour Air's marketing manager, Samantha Kent, told Business in Vancouver that the Seattle flights were the company's only cross-border flights and that given that the airline in peak season has its 40 planes flying about 300 flights per day, the halting of the U.S. flights is "nominal."

She added that the situation "is rapidly changing and we are altering our schedules and operations consistently and constantly." The company is updating its website to keep customers informed as things change.

"We still are offering scheduled flights, private flights and charter services," Kent said. Its parcel-express service is also operating.

As for Pacific Coastal Airlines, its president, Quentin Smith, said the suspension of all operations was a "difficult but necessary decision to take." 

He said that the feasibility of flying is "rapidly deteriorating" and that given "the need to be socially responsible during this state of emergency, we have no other choice than to take this drastic step to protect the health and safety of our employees, the public and the financial stability of our airline."

Helijet vice-president Rick Hill told BIV that his airline has decreased the frequency of its Vancouver–Nanaimo and Vancouver-Victoria routes and has halved the capacity on the helicopters to 6 from 12. 

The helicopter airline has also stepped up its sanitization process for the planes. 

The moves come as major airlines are also drastically reducing their operations.

Air Canada announced March 19 that it would lay off more than 5,000 flight attendants immediately and that the layoffs would last at least through April. It also plans to stop most international flights by March 31. Its Air Canada Rouge subsidiary is completely shut down. 

WestJet has said that it will not fly Canadians out of Canada by March 22 but that it will help the federal government get Canadians from abroad back to Canada by operating some flights. Sunwing is operating similarly.

The situation is much the same worldwide. Cathay Pacific, for example, said that it would cut its capacity by 96% in April and May.

gkorstrom@biv.com

@GlenKorstrom