Pacific Coastal Airlines Director of Business Development and Corporate Communications, Kevin Boothroyd, sat down with Port Hardy Council to face some tough questions about the company’s business decision to cancel certain flights out of the Port Hardy airport (which were reinstated roughly a month later after public outcry).
Before questions were asked, Boothroyd spoke about the history behind Pacific Coastal Airlines and its corporate culture, stating he likens the company’s desire to compete with bigger airlines to a school kid “stealing lunch money from the schoolyard bullies.”
Boothroyd also explained why he is proud of the company’s reputation, noting they “provide support to communities in other ways that airlines twice our size don’t do.”
He pointed out in 2016 they gave away over $718,000 in free flights to BC charities alone, “And that doesn’t include our cash gifts and our regular free flying for organizations like the BC SPCA — we’ve been flying the BC SPCA’s animals around for free, which is about $50,000 a year, for 40 years.”
He noted the company’s “Give is larger than the size of our footprint.”
Boothroyd then spoke on current issues in the aviation industry, stating there’s new startup airplane companies coming along every day, “And that’s creating pressure for everybody — it’s doing some good things for local communities by providing more options which means lower prices, but at the same time, the costs of operations continue to go up, with fuel being one of the major ones.”
He noted the cost of fuel is significant and has increased over 21 per cent since 2016, which equates to 2.4 million dollars in additional operating costs that they have been covering because they did not want to put that into its fares, “so we’ve been eating that — A one cent cost of fuel increase for us is $120,000 a year annual, to put that in perspective.”
Due to the issue, Pacific Coastal Airlines has had to add a $9.00 fuel surcharge on tickets between Vancouver and Port Hardy. “We didn’t have a choice, we held off on it as long as we could,” added Boothroyd, who pointed out if/when fuel charges eventually come back down to a reasonable level, “it will disappear.”
Boothroyd also slammed local media for not reporting on the international pilot shortage and how the federal government and Transport Canada is looking at decreasing the amount of flight time for pilots in order to give them more rest.
“Simply put, it means we will have less pilots and be able to use them less,” he said. “We’ve already been put in the position to cancel flights due to lack of pilots, and it’s a compound effect.”
Coun. Fred Robertson thanked the company for its response regarding the change in flight schedule “and being able to accommodate our requests and concerns, it was quite remarkable.”
“I do understand about the pilot shortage, but what I would like to suggest to you is instead of just changing your schedule abruptly and having everybody upset at you, maybe talk to the community first … When you come out and say the schedule is changing and then you say we will revisit it in whatever month depending on the demand, how are you going to figure out what the demand is?” asked Coun. Pat Corbett-Labatt.
“You do it based on historic patterns,” replied Boothroyd.
“That’s not what you said, you said you’re going to revisit it based on demand,” said Corbett-Labatt.
“Demand based on historic patterns,” answered Boothroyd.
Corbett-Labatt said people are going to be frustrated by the changes and might not use Pacific Coastal anymore to travel, “and all I’m suggesting is to look at more than your historic data.”
“It’s not as simple as that,” stated Boothroyd. “We were trying to be open and honest that we weren’t sure of how things were going to go, and part of that was the pilot shortage, we don’t know what the pilot situation is going to be that far ahead now, and it makes it very difficult to put out a schedule when you’ve got all these things in flux now.”
Coun. John Tidbury told Boothroyd that when he’s talking to the media or the general public, “you need to make the pilot issue more clear.”
Boothroyd said he had previously worked in the media industry for 16 years, adding he understands the business, but doesn’t “get to control the final story.”
Boothroyd ended the meeting by donating two free return flight tickets from Port Hardy to Vancouver, which he requested be given to a charitable cause of council’s choice.