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Old Posted Oct 6, 2021, 2:27 PM
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Airlines plead with feds to allow international flights in Hamilton

By Sebastian Bron Spectator Reporter Wed., Oct. 6, 2021

WestJet and Swoop are pleading with the federal government to green-light commercial international flights in and out of Hamilton after months of restrictions amid COVID-19.

The major Canadian airlines called restoring Hamilton’s international airport designation — stripped in March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic — an “urgent and necessary” measure at a roundtable discussion Monday.

“We believe all Canadian communities should participate in the (air travel) recovery, and that Hamilton shouldn’t be excluded,” said Andy Gibbons, vice-president of government relations at WestJet. “We are asking for immediate and urgent notification that Hamilton will be able to accept international flights this winter.”

There are presently nine airports in Canada permitted to accept international flights — a limited list that was upped from four last August in the wake of new travel mandates.

But travel advisories across the country should evolve to reflect rising vaccination rates, Gibbons argued. He said aviation will “likely” be Canada’s first fully vaccinated industry at the end of October.

“This is also a public health and COVID management issue,” he said. “We should be expanding the airport list so we can ensure that guests are spread out across multiple airports in Canada. We don’t want over-congestion in a limited number of airports.”

The delay in restoring Hamilton’s international airport status has caused Swoop to push back a fleet of tropic-bound flights scheduled for October.

Those triweekly or weekly flights — to Cancun and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, and Montego Bay in Jamaica — are now slated for takeoff in November, said Charles Duncan, president of the low-fare carrier.

“The airport is ready to accept international travellers,” he said, adding that, just on Monday, Swoop hired 33 new, Hamilton-based flight attendants. “Our international network is ready to go.”

So, too, said Cathie Puckering, president and CEO of the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport.

After a 2020 that saw airport guests drop by 66 per cent, Puckering said John C. Munro made “record-breaking investments” in construction and education to mend passengers’ reservations about flying during COVID.

“We have done everything that we can do to modify this facility to demonstrate we are safe,” said Puckering, later adding: “We are in a ready-state to serve our local community … We cannot lose anymore time.”
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