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International air traffic will be returning to more regional airports soon, after flights were restricted for most of the year as part of the government's efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a news conference Tuesday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said airports at eight mid-sized cities can reopen their runways to planes from across the border as of Nov. 30.
The airports range from Victoria to St. John's, N.L. The other six are in Waterloo and Hamilton in Ontario, Abbotsford and Kelowna in British Columbia, and Saskatoon and Regina.
“I'm pleased that increased vaccination levels have allowed us to safely reopen these additional Canadian airports to international passenger flights,'' Alghabra said on the tarmac at Waterloo International Airport.
“This move will help ensure travellers are able to access more regional airports for their international travels this winter, while continuing to support our government's measured approach to reopening our borders.''
The air sector had been pushing the government to allow more airports to take on international flights, with an eye to trips to and from U.S. and Caribbean destinations as the holidays approach.
Ten airports currently enjoy that status, expanded from four when Ottawa first introduced the restriction in February as part of a move to discourage non-essential trips, slow the spread of COVID-19 variants and concentrate the location of quarantine hotels.
Air service across the country last quarter reached just 37 per cent of its 2019 levels, and just 20 per cent for international traffic, Canadian Airports Council president Daniel-Robert Gooch said.
“We can see no reason why these communities have to wait any longer,'' he said in a statement, citing vaccination numbers and health protocols.
About 84 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and older were fully vaccinated as of last Friday, according to the federal government.
As of Nov. 30, all air travellers in Canada must be fully vaccinated in order to board.
WestJet Airlines Ltd. spokeswoman Morgan Bell said the industry's recovery hinges on allowing all airports to clear their runways for international arrivals.
WestJet will run limited international flights from the airports in December, ramping up the volume on Jan. 7, she said.
“Network planning commences months in advance to accommodate scheduling and staffing and we are disappointed that we were forced to delay previously planned international service from these regions due to limited notice,'' Bell said in a statement.
Both Air Canada and WestJet have criticized Ottawa's COVID-19 PCR test requirement that remains in place for passengers arriving from abroad. Bell called the pre-departure test rule “inconsistent with land border requirements.''
Garth Lund, chief commercial officer for budget carrier Flair Airlines, said the Edmonton-based company was grateful for the government's decision.
“We're eager to offer low fares to snowbirds young and old wanting to enjoy some sun this fall and winter,'' he said in a statement.
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