Airport authority still hopes to bring Air Canada to Central Alberta in 2010

Air industry financial turbulence has grounded any hope that Air Canada Jazz jets could be flying out of Red Deer Regional Airport this year.

Air industry financial turbulence has grounded any hope that Air Canada Jazz jets could be flying out of Red Deer Regional Airport this year.

But airport authority CEO Liam O’Connell said the airline wants to talk 2010, and another meeting is planned for July to discuss adding a Red Deer-centred east-west route to the Air Canada network.

Meanwhile, the quest for scheduled passenger service continues, with nine regional carriers approached in recent months. Of those, three are very interested in the prospects of a Red Deer route, said O’Connell at Red Deer County Centre, where he was giving council a quarterly report on Tuesday.

For years, the authority has been pitching the merits of a route that would include stops in Saskatchewan, Red Deer, Kelowna, Vancouver and Victoria.

“We think somebody is going to snap up that market.”

Getting a carrier to take on a Red Deer route would open the door to other opportunities.

“The first carrier in will prove the market and everyone else will watch that,” he said.

“We need to — just like any business — get that first break.”

Red Deer County Mayor Earl Kinsella said he was not surprised to hear that Air Canada was holding off on making a decision, given the economic climate.

The financial evidence is there that a Red Deer route will work and he’s confident someone will fill that gap in service.

“It will come over time.”

O’Connell said Air Canada Jazz would be a good fit because it has the right kind of aircraft, an existing route network and a brand name.

WestJet has also been approached, but the Red Deer Regional Airport’s runway is not long enough for the jets used by the Calgary-based airline.

Last fall, Air Canada gave the authority encouraging signs and praised its “robust business case.” It was hoped a favourable decision would come in the new year, when airlines set schedules.

But the economy went into a tailspin, and Air Canada went through a major spring shakeup that saw its CEO step down and other executives leave. Extending service to Red Deer moved to the back burner.

The regional airport has also felt the effects of a slumping economy this year.

Northwestern Air, which runs scheduled Monday and Thursday flights to Fort McMurray, has seen its 2009 loads drop to 394 passengers as of the end of May. That compares with about 700 to the same point last year.

Business is starting to pick up and O’Connell is confident that the airline will hit the 1,000-passenger level that is necessary to apply for federal funding programs.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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