Just about everyone is apoplectic about what is happening with our airport sector in the province (and region). We have to differentiate between a short term – Covid-19-driven response and the longer term impacts. People are speculating that airports will close and that airlines post-Covid-19 will want to reduce the number of airports they fly into (i.e. consolidate air transportation into fewer airports).
I have been writing for years about how governments equate transportation infrastructure with roads. The New Brunswick government spends hundreds of millions of tax dollars each year on roads but very little on every other area of transportation infrastructure (airports, rail, ports, etc.). The former is considered a fundamental role of government and the latter somehow must be totally direct user-funded.
This always seemed strange to me. The economic development of this province relies on a robust transportation system – not just highways and roads. For the most part the rail system has gone the way of the dodo bird in this province (it is booming in many places). It is amazing how quickly we forgot about the strategic value of the rail system.
Luckily there was a different view of the air transportation system and in the past 20 years we have benefited from more flights, more destinations and better costs. I still think we need a small commuter airport in Edmundston but beyond that things have gone reasonably well. I know there is a nascent movement to look at consolidating airports in Sussex but I can’t see how you would ever get buy-in for that.
Likely a better option would be going back to a ‘milk run’ whereby the plane starts in one city, drops down and picks up in a second and then off to Toronto, etc. I know the airlines don’t like that option, however.
The bigger point is that government needs to a) ensure we don’t lose our airports in the short term, and b) the system swings back to ‘normal’ post-pandemic (with some thought for a small commuter airport in Edmundston, sorry for the preoccupation but in the long run making people drive 2+ hours to access flights is not good).
I know there are those of you who would like everyone to drive to a single airport somewhere even if it takes 2-3 hours to get there. You will argue that on average your total travel time will be shorter because that single airport would have more and more frequent routes (and lower costs). Maybe, but you still have this lingering long term reality that cities/towns without an airport over the long run have much lower economic growth than those that do (based on my analysis almost 20 years ago).
So, for now don’t panic. If WestJet only has 6 people on a flight how can you expect them to continue flying?
Let’s focus on my two principles: a) ensure we don’t lose our airports in the short term, and b) the system swings back to ‘normal’ post-pandemic.