St. John’s isn’t getting a direct flight to Europe — yet — but Furey hints at routes to come

Newfoundland and Labrador’s premier said Monday the province hasn’t managed to attract a direct route to Europe, despite persistent efforts — but he hinted at potential news to come.

Premier Andrew Furey told reporters his government has been wheeling and dealing, attempting to secure a route that would take passengers straight east across the Atlantic without making stopovers in westerly cities such as Halifax, Montreal or Toronto.

“I can tell you I’ve met with … other airlines, international providers that go to Europe,” Furey said, “and they have told me, just a year ago when I met with them, that it wasn’t about incentives.

“They just didn’t have the supply. They didn’t have the aircraft, they didn’t have the pilots, they didn’t have the mechanics.”

Furey added no amount of cash or revenue guarantees would have helped at the time.

“I said, ‘What would it take for me to get a plane from Dublin to St. John’s?’ ‘You can’t write a cheque,’ was the response.”

St. John’s has been without a direct flight to Europe since 2019. Its only international destinations, apart from the nearby French territory of St-Pierre-Miquelon, are tourist spots in Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean. But the premier insisted Monday that supply chain issues haven’t yet killed off the European dream, suggesting other deals are quietly in the works.

Premier Andrew Furey and WestJet vice-president Andrew Gibbons unveiled a new direct route from St. John’s to Alberta on Monday, and Furey told reporters that securing a European flight is a ‘top priority’ for his government. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

“We need to make sure that we have the human resources and the support staff.… But also, just say, stay tuned for other announcements like this hopefully in the not too distant future,” he said.

“As we know, Germany in particular is quite interested in our province these days … whether it’s from an energy space or critical mineral space. And … the feedback that we heard the most is that ‘we can’t fly here direct’ or ‘we have to fly to two different airports and then to Toronto to get to St. John’s.’

“Opening up Europe is is a top priority for us.”

Newfoundland and Labrador officials met with German airline Condor last year to no avail, but the premier didn’t say what airlines his government was currently courting.

Meanwhile, the St. John’s International Airport says business is booming this summer, signalling a gradual return to normal levels of traffic through the province. 

“Air travel is certainly rebounding in a very strong way,” said airport CEO Dennis Hogan on Monday.

“We’re probably about 90 per cent of where we would have been in the last pre-pandemic year, in 2019.”

Direct Calgary route coming

WestJet also unveiled its winter schedule Monday, introducing direct routes to Calgary, Orlando and Tampa Bay. 

Andrew Gibbons, WestJet’s vice-president of external affairs, pointed out the popularity of its St. John’s to Alberta routes, prompting the airline to implement a twice-weekly, year-round flight between St. John’s and Calgary.

“The opportunity presented itself,” Gibbons said. 

Furey said the provincial government helped put the deal together but didn’t offer WestJet any revenue guarantees or other financial incentives.

The premier framed his government’s relationship with airline brass as an essential factor to securing Newfoundland and Labrador’s access to air transportation.

“We understand that … there may be a redirection, a reshape of WestJet. We don’t want to be lost because we’re not west,” Furey said. 

“So I think that you cannot understate the importance of that relationship.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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