Wednesday,  February 8, 2023  12:08 pm

Trade cries foul over Air Canada cutting Calgary-Sask. service; WestJet adds flights

Trade cries foul over Air Canada cutting Calgary-Sask. service; WestJet adds flights
(File photos)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

This story was updated on Tuesday, January 17 at 10:31 a.m. EST 


Saskatchewan’s small business community, which includes travel advisors, is pushing back against Air Canada’s decision to suspend service between the province and Calgary, Alberta.

On Monday (Jan. 16), Air Canada suspended flights between Calgary and Regina and Saskatoon airports, leaving travellers in Saskatchewan with only one airline to get them between the cities for the next several months.

The cuts are part of a decision made last fall to make commercial changes to its regional network to and from Calgary, Air Canada wrote in a statement provided to CBC News.

"We are continuing to rebuild our business in a prudent and disciplined way, which involved looking at every aspect of our network and deploying our resources where they will be most productive," the statement reads.

The province’s small business community, however, is urging Air Canada to reconsider.  

In an open letter to Air Canada’s executive team and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Troy Theodore Wruck, a Saskatoon-based handyman and property manager, writes that cutting flights between Saskatoon and Calgary is “gonna hit us all where it hurts.”

“As the region’s biggest hub, Calgary is like a lifeline for Saskatoon businesses,” he writes in the letter, which can be viewed on LinkedIn.

“It's our main connection to Air Canada’s Star Alliance and code share partners. It's how international travellers access Saskatoon. And now, thanks to your decision, Saskatoon business travellers are gonna spend more time, more energy, and more money to connect with the markets they serve.”

Wruck goes on to say that it’s not just businesses that will be impacted by the cuts. Science, educational and innovation institutes in Saskatchewan also heavily rely on the routes, as do leisure travellers – a market that is “only gonna get bigger” in the coming years, he writes. 

"Short-sighted"

Travel advisor Jamie Angus-Milton, president of Uniglobe Carefree Travel Group in Saskatoon, has endorsed Wruck’s letter, calling Air Canada’s decision “short-sighted.”

Writing on LinkedIn, Angus-Milton said there is “so much potential” in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan in general.

“To cut service is short-sighted and extremely impactful to Saskatchewan and our economic growth,” Angus-Milton writes. “We join Troy and other small business owners in asking for the resumption of service from Saskatoon to Calgary." 

"A strong Canada needs a strong national airline network. As our national airline, Canadians depend on Air Canada.”

WestJet steps in

WestJet, meanwhile, is trying to fill in the gaps, adding additional service between Calgary and Saskatchewan on Feb. 16, CBC reports.

The airline will add three additional daily flights between Calgary and Saskatoon, operating up to nine direct flights daily.

It will also add one new daily flight between Calgary and Regina, operating up to seven direct flights each day.

In total, WestJet will operate 104 weekly flights between the communities and YYC Calgary International Airport, the airline said.  

Competition Bureau called to investigate 

Meanwhile, the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday (Jan. 17) has called on Canada's Competition Bureau to examine Air Canada's decision and the implications for travellers who now face less choice and higher costs because competition has been harmed.

"Air Canada has not adequately explained its 'business decision' to disregard strong and growing demand and eliminate a route that has been consistently profitable for over 30 years," stated Jason Aebig, CEO of the Saskatoon Chamber, noting forecasts that predict strong economic and population growth for Saskatoon and Saskatchewan in the years ahead. "If Air Canada is unwilling to explain its decision to its customers and stakeholders, it can explain its decision to its regulators."

The Chamber's 11-page submission to the Bureau contends that Air Canada's cancellation of service from Saskatoon to Calgary amounts to a net loss of competition and choice for business and leisure travellers, leaving its closest, direct competitor as the sole provider of comparable service to Saskatoon and Saskatchewan. 

Route changes through 2022 suggest that Air Canada and WestJet took steps to soften competition in the oligopolistic Canadian airline industry. 

Air Canada withdrew competition from the traditional home-turf regional routes of WestJet, and WestJet did the same in the traditional home-turf regional routes of Air Canada.

The Chamber has asked the Bureau to determine whether the air carriers either "expressly or tacitly" came to an agreement to allocate markets, contrary to the conspiracy provisions, or the civil competitor collaboration provisions, of the Competition Act, according to a news release.

"Even if the conduct falls short of being an 'agreement' between the airlines, it amounts to an abuse of dominance by Air Canada and WestJet where the airlines have engaged in conduct intended to harm competition, thereby improving their respective positions in the market," Saskatoon's Chamber of Commerce said.

"Generations of taxpayers have supported the operation of our airlines and national air services system with the expectation that they work for the benefit of all Canadians, in every province and region," said Aebig. "They have a responsibility to the country, and specifically the travelling public, to account for decisions that are clearly undermining competition and choice."

The Chamber believes Air Canada's decision to abandon a longstanding and profitable domestic route," and cede ground to its closest direct competitor, is concerning and warrants the Bureau's intervention.

"We trust the Competition Bureau to clarify the issues," said Aebig. "What is clear is business confidence is strong, our economic horizon is bright, and growing numbers of people are eager to visit, study and work in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan."


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