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Stanfield airport slowly regaining pre-pandemic traffic levels

Takeoffs and landing down 35% since 2019, but airport authority says seat capacity increasing

3 min read
caption Halifax Stanfield International Airport has seen passenger volumes restored to 85 per cent of pre-pandemic level.
Yuan Wang

Halifax Stanfield International Airport’s aircraft movements have still not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

In August of this year, Stanfield had 5,451 aircraft landings and takeoffs, roughly 35 per cent lower than the same period in 2019, Statistics Canada data shows.

However, according to the airport authority, the number of seats available has been increasing.

“There are markets (that) might have been served multiple times a day that are seeing some consolidated frequencies,” said Chris de Man, director of air service at Stanfield. That means larger aircraft are being used, leading to fewer flights but more overall seats for some markets, he said.

Figures shared by the airport authority via email show that 2023 seat capacity on domestic flights is 83 per cent of 2019, international flights at 108 per cent and U.S. flights at 50 per cent.

The airport has recovered about 85 per cent of its 2019 passenger volumes, said the authority in the email, and it anticipates a full return to pre-pandemic levels by 2025.

However, Eilidh Blacker’s family of five hasn’t benefitted from the convenience of the increased seating capacity. The end of direct WestJet service from Halifax to Scotland has meant much a higher costs for her.

In several online exchanges, she said the family couldn’t afford to fly back to Glasgow, Scotland for a Christmas reunion with her parents, because they spent too much money on their summer trip.

During the summer, Blacker had to pay $2,000 for five air tickets to first travel with her family from Halifax to Toronto. They stayed one night in a $200 hotel and the next day spent another $4,966 flying from Toronto to Glasgow, which took mroe than 20 hours in total.

But in the summer of 2022, their non-stop flight from Halifax to Glasgow, operated by WestJet, took only five hours and cost only $4,300 for five seats.

“Nova Scotia is now inaccessible,” said Blacker. She also called a circuitous flight route like this “such a waste of fuel.”

Blacker said her family and friends in Glasgow would visit her in Halifax yearly, but now they haven’t made plans because of the huge cost and inconvenience.

WestJet used to run non-stop flights from Halifax to Europe typically flying from April through October, but earlier this year, the company said it was suspending flights to multiple European cities, including London, Dublin, Glasgow and Paris. The airline didn’t say when the service would resume.

In mid-2022, WestJet said it intended to concentrate its operations in Western Canada.

Airport officials would not comment on Blacker’s reference to Nova Scotia being “inaccessible.” But de Man said Stanfield has been working hard with airlines to bring more routes back to the region, such as Delta Air Lines and American Airlines’ services from Halifax to New York, which resume in 2024.

The authority said the biggest challenge it faces in restoring capacity is the shortage of pilots and the slow recovery on U.S. routes is a result of that.

The latest statistics on historical data on pilot licences issued, shared by Transport Canada via email, show a total of 1,515 commercial pilot licences were issued in Canada in 2022, a decline of about 13 per cent compared to 2019. Between January and July of this year, 1,063 were issued.

Blacker may spend less time and money visiting her family in Europe in 2024, though it won’t necessarily be with a direct flight to Glasgow. Iceland Air announced earlier this month that it will resume seasonal non-stop flights from Halifax to Reykjavik next May.

“At least (Reykjavik) is on the way to Scotland,” said Blacker.

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About the author

Yuan Wang

Yuan Wang comes from China. She has an interest in international news and non-fiction. She also has a background in documentary production.

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