(Quebec) The unreliability of Air Canada’s service to Sept-Îles is now an obstacle to the “smooth running of operations” of Aluminerie Alouette and the “implementation” of its development projects. Faced with the silence of the airline, the largest aluminum smelter in the Americas urges the Legault government to act.
The senior management of the company of some 900 employees spoke directly to Air Canada to express their “dissatisfaction” with the reliability and quality of its offer in the region, learned La Presse. “Our employees and business partners are feeling the impact of the significant reduction in services,” wrote the vice president of finance and administration in a letter dated March 1.
Charles-André Nadeau cites in his missive the “limitation of supply”, such as the end of the Sept-Îles-Québec link, the schedules “inflexible and not adapted to the reality of businesses” and the “recurrence of delays, postponements and flight cancellations without notice”.
Air Canada has offered since the post-pandemic recovery a single flight to Montreal at 5 a.m. and a return at 10:50 p.m.
These hazards cause “constant uncertainty” which now makes it “a major issue both for the smooth running [of] regular operations and for the implementation of some of our development projects”, pleads Mr. Nadeau, who adds that the “negative effects” suffered affect, “increasingly significantly, the course [of] business” of the company.
“What is beyond me is that I have had zero feedback to date,” lamented Mr. Nadeau in an interview with La Presse. According to the company, Air Canada has thus given no priority to its advocacy in which it seeks the collaboration of the carrier in order to put in place “sustainable and profitable solutions for the entire North Shore”.
“Everyone here needs to take charge and increase the pressure at the political level so that they get on the ice and help us solve our problem because Alouette, alone, cannot solve [the problem] “, illustrates Mr. Nadeau.
The Minister of Transport, Geneviève Guilbault, and the Minister responsible for the North Shore, Kateri Champagne Jourdain, notably received a copy of the letter.
“We are sensitive to the situation experienced by the population and by our businesses in the regions of Quebec. We repeat, to better develop our economy, we must ensure a better connection of the regions between them, “said Ms. Guilbault’s office in a statement. We are also assured that we will provide a written response to the aluminum smelter.
Created in February, the new Standing Committee on Regional Air Transport, of which Air Canada is a member, is due to issue its first recommendations on April 1, 2024.
“I was surprised that we didn’t [want to] achieve results faster than that. This is a region that is being held hostage right now,” says Nadeau.
The economic community and the mayors of the North Shore are already mobilized. La Presse reported at the end of March that despite the grand launch of $500 subsidized tickets by the Legault government last year, air service is worse than ever in the regions. Moreover, Quebec has no “accurate portrait” of the reliability of regional service.1
Data compiled by the airline data firm Cirium at the request of La Presse revealed, as of March 30, that Air Canada has canceled nearly 19% of its flights since the beginning of the year at Sept-Îles airport. . About 4 out of 10 flights also failed to depart on time in Sept-Îles.
Air Canada did not respond to our request on Monday. In March, the carrier attributed the disruptions to the winter season, “during which weather conditions are often more difficult”.
In the latest Girard budget, Quebec set aside $10 million to extend emergency assistance to regional air carriers.
According to the smelter, Air Canada flights are “regularly” canceled, causing the organization all sorts of headaches in its project planning and communications with its five shareholders, based around the world.
“Recently, we had two shareholders who couldn’t go [to Sept-Îles] because the flight was canceled, and the return for two others was very problematic. It becomes an irritant,” Mr. Nadeau points out, adding that partners are “starting to get nervous about it.” There are factory visits that cannot be done in Zoom, illustrates the company.
In addition, Alouette has on track a major project to refurbish two of its anode baking furnaces requiring investments of 170 million. Some 300 workers are expected to be active at the height of the site this spring. The planning phase of the project, which intensified in September, was disrupted by the unreliability of air service and teams remained stuck in Sept-Îles.
“When the subcontractors who work for us experience situations like that, the extra hotel nights, we are the ones who pay the bill,” explains Mr. Nadeau. For the time being, Aluminerie Alouette has not assessed the financial impacts related to the vagaries of air transport.