Since Pacific Coastal Airlines resumed service to Williams Lake in June, the company is seeing the amount of traffic ‘slowly’ grow and will be adding more flights later this month.
“We started with three flights a week, which we did for most markets, just to see what the demand was,” the company’s president Quentin Smith told the Tribune.
Starting July 26, there will be six flights a week into Williams Lake and Smith added they are responsive to adding more capacity if it is required.
Prior to COVID-19 there were five flights a day into Williams Lake between Pacific Coastal and Central Mountain Air.
“We know the traffic did exist, but it’s a matter of how much will return over a matter of time,” Smith said.
To date Central Mountain Air (CMA) has not resumed its service to Williams Lake.
According to the CMA website, a list of scheduled flights dated from July 7 to Oct. 31, 2020, does not include Williams Lake or Quesnel.
As for COVID-19 measures, Smith said deep sanitizing and cleaning of the planes happens every evening and at every turn around during the day there is a wipe-down of the aircraft.
“We have Plexiglass screens at all the check-in counters, the majority of the airports are asking clients to social distance and only people that are travelling to come inside the buildings,” Smith said, adding they recognize that realistically a traveller may need the support of an additional person.
Everyone flying is required to wear a mask for the duration of the flight and during check-in and boarding sanitization items are provided to passengers.
Smith has been in the aviation business for 32 years and said in comparison to weathering recessions in the past, the COVID-19 pandemic came on very quickly.
At the beginning of March 2020, Pacific Coastal was looking at having one of its best first quarters in recent history but by the end of the month they were suspending all scheduled service on Pacific Coastal routes.
“We’ve been maintaining a little bit of charter work and some operation work with WestJet, but that was limited as well,” Smith said.
Over 500 people were laid off within the company, which has been a massive impact.
“That’s a lot of long-time employees with Pacific Coastal that rely on us for a livelihood,” he added.
Uncertainty persists, Smith said, noting nobody knows the future of air travel and whether there will be another outbreak of the virus.
Pacific Coastal is having a difficult time providing employees with any realistic timelines.
“It’s been a struggle. It’s not that we are trying to be secretive, but as the phrase goes, ‘the only certainty is uncertainty,’ and as I share with employees and others, there is no historical data to even project how an economy or the aviation industry returns after a pandemic.”
A second-generation owner of the company, Smith said his late father Daryl Smith, who died on Feb. 1, 2020, started his first airline business in Bella Coola in 1964.
The family moved to the Lower Mainland in 1968 when opportunities in the industry began to grow, but Smith spent the first four years of his life in Bella Coola.