Air Canada flights to St. Vincent should resume by November, Minister of Tourism Carlos James told Parliament today (Tuesday).
“… the tentative date for the return, which … late October, early November, that’s set by Air Canada; not me saying that to you but Air Canada has indicated their willingness to ramp up their service to fly to our destination during the winter period,” James said.
He was responding to Opposition Leader Godwin Friday who asked him the reason for the planned termination of Air Canada’s service to SVG and the implications of the decision for travel and tourism in the country.
“Firstly, Air Canada is not terminating its service to St. Vincent and the Grenadines but rather would temporarily suspend its services over the summer period and would resume flights in late October, early November of 2023,” James said.
He said the issue resulted from regulations implemented in Canada last year, regarding the number of rest hours for airline crew, amidst a shortage of pilots.
In February, Glen Beache, chief executive officer of the SVG Tourism Authority, said that the government should have received by March 3 a response on whether Air Canada had accepted its proposal and would, therefore, reverse its decision to suspend flights to Argyle International Airport.
James said that normally, about 1,000 Canadian pilots would apply for commercial license annually.
“Since COVID, and by 2022, the figure has plunged … more than 80%. The number of Canadian pilots who are now applying annually for licences is roughly about 200,” James told lawmakers.
He said this has impacted the availability of crew to operate the flights to the southern Caribbean.
“The flights to Grenada and Aruba have also been affected. And because St. Vincent and the Grenadines and some of these other jurisdictions we don’t have daily flights, it’s very difficult for Air Canada to extend having crew on the ground two or three days during their rest period to then man an aircraft to go back to Toronto.”
James, however, said that with a number of hotels expected to begin operating in SVG “within the next year or two, we will see a lot more daily flights coming to a destination”.
He mentioned Royal Mill, Marriott Resort, Sandals, Holiday Inn Express, Mayah’s Luxury Suites Hotel, La Vue, and Soho House.
“In fact, just yesterday when I did the numbers, the daily flights from Miami, we were seeing some good numbers. The inbound were over 74% and outbound 77%, close to 80% in terms of capacity on those daily flights that are coming and we are not yet at the end of March as we started this month,” James said.
He said that in July, Caribbean Airlines will add an extra flight from New York.
“And these are some of also the alternatives in getting to the destination as we still work with Air Canada to see how we can offset some of the challenges and complications they have with providing crew and having the requisite staff to manage the operations of flights to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
He said the suspension of Air Canada flights will affect the local travel and tourism industry but noted that Caribbean Airlines added three additional flights between Barbados and St. Vincent.
“We can hope that persons, in the interim, can travel to Miami which is an international hub or out of Barbados, which currently has daily flights out of Toronto and can do a connection with the three additional flights being added to Caribbean Airlines or any of the other regional carriers and also out of New York, where we have two flights from July coming into St. Vincent and Grenadines — nonstop flights to the destination.”
He said Canada is one of SVG’s “largest growing markets and Air Canada was quite pleased with the numbers.
“But because of all these regulatory issues and the shortage of pilots, they have to take into account these things when doing the scheduling over the summer period. So, St. Vincent, Grenada, Aruba and some other countries are adversely affected as a result of that,” James said.