• Manini Sethi

Why the Sydney Airport Standstill Spells Disaster for CBU and Cape Breton

On 14th October, 2020, WestJet announced that it would be indefinitely suspending all operations to Sydney‘s JA Douglas McCurdy airport. This week, Air Canada announced that they will be extending the flight suspension between Sydney and Halifax till at least 1st February, 2021 and will suspend flights between Toronto and Sydney from 11th of January, 2021 until further notice. In a press release, Mike MacKinnon, CEO of the Sydney airport said that the flight suspension by Air Canada and WestJet will have an “absolutely catastrophic” effect on Cape Breton.


President, Cape Breton University, David C. Dingwall advocates for flight restoration in Sydney. Source: linkedin.com/in/daviddingwall/


Not only will this decision have a severely detrimental impact on the economy and tourism in Cape Breton, but it will also impact CBU students who are planning on travelling to Cape Breton to begin or continue their studies. The next closest airport to Cape Breton University is the Halifax Stanfield International Airport, which is at a distance of 380km, which roughly translates to a four hour drive and an $80 dollar shuttle fee.


In mid November, CBU announced that international students who plan on returning to Canada would be required to do their government mandated 14 day quarantine in a CBU designated location, i.e., CBU on-campus Residence or Cambridge Suites Hotel in Sydney. Students were expected to go straight from the Sydney airport to the quarantine location (More details on CBU's quarantine requirements can be found *here*) With the current state of affairs, with no flights coming into the Sydney airport, many CBU students are concerned about whether or not they would be allowed to travel back to Canada.


Caper Times interviewed President and CEO of CBU Students' Union, Amrinder Singh on the matter.


CT Staff: WestJet and now Air Canada has suspended flights to and from Sydney. How do you think this will impact CBU students?


Amrinder: I believe it will have a very detrimental effect on CBU students. Our students rely heavily on airport services. Being away from, it gives them a sense of security knowing the airport is just a few kilometers away from their home or school. I have seen many instances where students have to travel back to their home countries on very short notice, whether that’s to be with their families during an unforeseen illness or death of a loved one or for their health reasons. There is comfort in knowing that they have easy access to airport services. The loss of our air services will not only affect the ability of the current students to travel freely but will also affect the decision of future students to come to Cape Breton.


Pictured: Amrinder Singh: President, CBU Students' Union


CT Staff: Does the flight suspension now imply that it is impossible for international students who are taking classes online to come to Canada as they would no longer be able to go directly to a CBU designated location for the government-mandated 14-day quarantine?


Amrinder: It is certainly not impossible for international students to come to Canada. In the past, they were to come to Sydney directly and go to the CBU designated areas to self-isolate. I am very closely working with the CBU administration to work out a new plan to help students come to Cape Breton. We still have the Halifax airport, and discussions are underway way on what is the best and safest way to bring students here. Students will be able to land in Halifax, the next big decision would be whether to have a CBU designated hotel in Halifax and let the students self-isolate there and then bring them to Cape Breton or pick up the students and bring them to Cape Breton first directly to the CBU designated areas here. The details haven’t been finalized yet but a decision on that will be made soon.


CT Staff: Are CBU and CBUSU actively advocating against the flight suspension? If yes, what has been the impact of this so far?


Amrinder: CBU Students’ Union has been very proactive in advocating for our airport. Official letters were sent to President Dingwall, Mayor Amanda McDougall, President & CEO of Chamber of Commerce Kathleen Yurchesyn, President & CEO of Cape Breton Partnership, our MPs Mike Kelloway and Jaime Battiste and our MLA’s Derek Mombourquette and Geoff MacLellan calling out for a collaborative lobbying effort to save our airport. I have also met and had various conversations with different groups on the island on how we can go advocate efficiently to save our airport which is a very vital resource to Cape Breton and its community and we will continue our efforts in the same direction.


The coronavirus pandemic has not only put our health and economy at risk, but it has also had an immense psychological impact on all segments of the population, especially students. In an interview, Jessy K (name changed for maintaining privacy) tells Caper Times that she was planning on returning to her home country in May, 2019 for the summer but made the tough decision to not go as she was insecure that she would not be able to come back in time for her January 2021 semester if it were to be conducted on campus. "It's very difficult to keep up with the changing regulations; first international travel was allowed, but then it wasn't, and now it is but it's just too complicated and the rules can change any day and there are too many additional costs" Jessy adds.


Rishi Midha, an international student from India, tells Caper Times that he booked a $1700 flight ticket which got cancelled due to the pandemic back in May 2020 through an airline ticket booking agency and still hasn't received a refund. Shreya Singh (name changed for maintaining privacy), also an international student, told Caper Times that she was planning on travelling back to her home country for the winter break but cancelled her plans due to the unclear and constantly changing travel restrictions and the high cost of institutional quarantine. Shreya told Caper Times that she feels that the difference in travel restrictions between international travel and inter province travel aren't logical. "A student travelling to Nova Scotia from Ontario, where the virus is so prevalent, is allowed to self isolate at home while someone travelling from, let's say, Vietnam or India, has to do an institutionalized quarantine, which is very expensive. Both these people are just as likely to pass on the virus"


CBU and CBUSU continue to advocate for the restoration of flights in Sydney. If you would like to share your story about how the pandemic affected you personally, please reach out to ct_editorinchief@cbu.ca.


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