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No honeymoon for Transport Minister Omar Alghabra as Air Canada slashes 1,900 jobs on his first full day on the job

No honeymoon for Transport Minister Omar Alghabra as Air Canada slashes 1,900 jobs on his first full day on the job
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One day after he was sworn in as Canada’s new transport minister, Mississauga MP Omar Alghabra finds he is confronted by what one industry representative calls “an existential crisis” for the airline sector amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Citing “increased travel restrictions” as it struggles with a persistent and massive decline in passenger traffic, Air Canada announced its latest round of layoffs and route suspensions Wednesday. In a news release, .

As of Jan. 23, the company will shut down all flights to and from airports in six cities: Fredericton, N.B., Gander, Nfld., Goose Bay, Nfld., Yellowknife, N.W.T., Kamloops, B.C. and Prince Rupert B.C. Routes between Quebec City and Toronto and St. John’s and Toronto will also be among others suspended “until further notice,” the company said.

The cuts bring overall capacity of Canada’s largest airline to “about 20 per cent what Air Canada operated” at this time two years ago, the company said.

The announcement landed on Alghabra’s first full day on the job, and is the latest bit of turbulence for Canada’s airline industry as it presses the federal government for more help to cope with the collapse of air travel during the pandemic.

In a statement to the Star, Alghabra’s spokesperson Allison St-Jean said “we are disappointed by airlines’ decisions to cancel more regional routes,” and that the federal government is “developing a package of assistance” to the industry.

“But before we spend one penny of taxpayer money on airlines, we will ensure that Canadians get their (ticket) refunds, regional communities retain air connections to the rest of Canada, and Canadian air carriers maintain their status as key customers of Canada’s aerospace industry,” St-Jean said.

Mike McNaney, president of the National Airlines Council of Canada that represents major airlines, told the Star that he has heard statements about a coming aid package from Ottawa for months. And while the federal government has created emergency programs to support struggling businesses during the pandemic, McNaney said he still has no idea when the promised airline-specific help will come.

Alghabra now takes over from Quebec MP Marc Garneau as transport minister “in the midst of the most critical, existential crisis the industry has ever faced,” McNaney said.

“If we don’t get this right, then the economic recovery of the country overall will absolutely be undermined,” he added. “The challenges could not be bigger for the new minister.”

Air travel all over the world has collapsed as the deadly coronavirus has infected more than 90 million people and killed almost 2 million, according to the World Health Organization.

In Canada, air traffic plummeted when a global pandemic was declared last March and the federal government started urging people to avoid all “non-essential” travel. The most recent data from Statistics Canada shows air traffic in October 2020 was almost 83 per cent lower than one year earlier.
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