Sherbrooke situation stable as regional airports struggle

By Gordon Lambie

On Thursday Quebec’s Transport Minister, François Bonnardel, announced continued support for regional air service in response to an appeal from more remote communities left cut-off by Air-Canada’s decision to indefinitely suspend a large number of smaller routes. The decision was welcomed by the members of the crisis response group that first put out calls for action, even if it does not offer a clear solution to the broader issue of community isolation, because of the way they see it as making room for continued conversation about how to keep remote areas connected.
Asked if the conversations taking place around the future of regional airports in Quebec and across the country has any bearing on Sherbrooke’s ongoing quest for commercial air service, Airport Development Corporation President Claude Charron said that he’s sitting at the table but that in some ways the city is living with a near-miss situation.
“We’re lucky in our bad luck,” Charron said, noting that because the Sherbrooke had yet to establish a carrier service when the pandemic hit, its situation remained stable even after airlines began to struggle with a lack of business. “If we had started, we would be in the same trouble.”
As things stand, the president described the project as being in something of a holding pattern.
“We have finally got a budget, we’ve got money to start operating, and our negotiations with a supplier has been taking a while because we’re going through different procedures,” Charron said. “The delay is the virus at this point,” he added pointing out that the success of an airport is tied not just to its own region but also to others all over the world. “We have to coordinate with business recovery, and not just locally but worldwide.”
Charron said that as the city’s representative to the Union of Municipalities of Quebec (UMQ), he’s at the table for the conversations going on around how best to serve the airports cut off by Air Canada, including the one proposing the foundation of a cooperative air carrier. To date, however, he said that he doesn’t see anything which has relevance to Sherbrooke’s situation.
“Everything’s on the table, but it’s all possibilities when what we need is a long term solution,” he said, repeating the need for a coordinated, organized response tied to economic development.
With regard to Sherbrooke in particular, the president said that the situation will remain idle until there is some sign of revival in the industry as a whole.
“We can’t start investing money until things are operating,” he said.

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