By Mariah McCooey–Hawkair is pulling out of Sandspit, once again leaving islanders with only one way to fly direct to Vancouver.
The Terrace-based company started providing two flights per day to Vancouver on May 16, but will end island service starting Friday September 17. After that there will be one daily flight, operated by Air Canada Jazz.
“Well, you know exactly how it is up there,” said Hawkair CEO Rod Hayward, “around September 15, it’s like somebody turns a lightswitch off.” He said that with the current island economy, providing winter service is simply not viable. “It’s pretty much a seasonal place these days,” he said, explaining that most of Hawkair’s customers were tourists and fishing lodge guests. Due to the decline in the resource-based economy, he said, there’s just not the same amount of air travel going on in the winter.
“I’ve seen passenger lists for the middle of January, and the average number is fifteen,” he said, “it just doesn’t justify having two large planes daily.”
Mr. Hayward added that they are expecting to fire up their Dash-8 service again next spring, and he’d like to thank islanders for being so receptive to Hawkair’s inaugural year.
“This doesn’t please me,” said Casey Jarvis at Masset Travel, “I kinda told them they’d be silly to compete with Air Canada.” Ms Jarvis thinks Hawkair might have had more success offering a service out of Masset airport, where Air Canada doesn’t fly. “I’ve even had people from Queen Charlotte say that they’d actually prefer to drive to Masset than take the ferry (to Sandspit).”
Ms Jarvis said that it remains to be seen how this will affect airfares. Hawkair was offering one-way flights to Vancouver for $199, compared to Air Canada’s going rate of about $218. She said it’s unlikely that Air Canada will raise its fares immediately (now the competition’s gone) but “you never know.” Air Canada is having a great seat sale right now though, she said, if you’re going east – $500 round trip to Toronto, until September 23.
Mr. Hayward said Air Canada is likely to raise the fares in the winter, to compensate for the money lost in flying with fewer passengers.
“As a businessman, I’m saddened,” said Winston Shave, treasurer of the QCI Chamber of Commerce. “This affects a lot of people,” he said – another business gone. “I wish I’d taken a flight.”
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