By Jaymie L. White
Special to the Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE – Things are beginning to look up for Stephenville airport with the return of Sunwing flights beginning this summer.
In response to email inquiries, a representative for Sunwing Media expressed excitement after announcing regular flights to Stephenville for at least the summer months.
“We are delighted to resume flights between Toronto and Stephenville this summer. Our domestic summer program is now in its 17th year and we pride ourselves on offering domestic service to popular Newfoundland destinations including Stephenville, helping more Canadians reconnect with loved ones under our wing and explore their own backyard during the summer months.”
Flights will run on Wednesdays between Toronto and Stephenville starting on June 22 until Sept. 7, 2022, but that isn’t the only location.
“In addition to our Stephenville route, we are excited to be offering flights between Toronto and the Newfoundland destinations of St. John’s from Monday to Friday, starting June 20 until Sept. 7, and Gander on Tuesdays and Fridays, starting June 21 until Sept. 6.”
There is also the possibility of flights extending into the winter as well, but no plans have yet been confirmed.
“We are optimistic about resuming flights from Newfoundland gateways, including Stephenville, to a variety of popular sun destinations for the 2022-2023 winter season. Sunwing is a vital link for Canada’s regional communities to the world and we are proud of our ability to connect Canada’s regional airports to international destinations. We look forward to when we can bring more customers from Stephenville and surrounding regions back to the tropics from their gateway of choice.”
Mayor Tom Rose said COVID has really challenged the airline industry, but he is happy to see Sunwing returning.
“It’s so great to see that Sunwing has gotten through the COVID-19 pandemic and have re-established service back into Stephenville. It’s a big year this year. It’s our Come Home Year and I am pretty confident that we are going to be at the end of this pandemic and things are going to get back to normal, even if that is a new normal, but at least we can embrace some sort of lifestyle.”
Rose believes that the plans in progress surrounding the Stephenville airport are going to prompt further expansion when it comes to regional flight routes.
“I’m really pleased. It’s our first airline to come back. Porter was another airline and we haven’t heard from them, but I’m confident with some economic announcements – obviously the one at the airport – and some other things that are happening, this town is ready to grow. It’s our time. We’ve waited 50 years for the next economic boom and I’m confident that the stuff that we, as council, and what private sector is doing here in Stephenville, that we’re going to have re-established new routes and new service. The future looks good.”
Rose said it is all about timing and having the proper economics in place. He believes the town has both, which is going to cause even more airlines to look to Stephenville as a place to establish new and regular flights and service.
“What’s happened over the last roughly two years, we’ve re-established a new management partnership with Winnipeg Airport Authority and Mr. Lew Short is doing a phenomenal job as the new airport manager. We’re in full compliance with all of our Transportation Canada safety and security regulations, so we are ready for growth and if there’s one thing – we’ve never had a lot of passenger traffic before the pandemic and a lot of things got reset. But I think now, the timing and the economics that’s starting to touch Stephenville, this is a time that the airlines are really starting to look at Stephenville. Even though it’s still a tough time in the airline industry and it’s going to take a few years to get back to full growth, but I think we’re going to be part of that growth structure.”
Rose shares Sunwing Media’s optimism that as passengers come into and out of Stephenville airport, they might end up establishing flight routes that last past September.
“We anticipate that they may look at enhancing that, extending that as they see their numbers grow and the passengers really start to come back after COVID. We may see some summer destination points and that’s something that I’d love to see and work on out of Stephenville. In February, Cancun or Cuba or Havana, they all sound pretty good for a break.”
Even though the airport sale in Sept. 2021 promised a large economic improvement for the Town, Mayor Rose believes Sunwing already had a good established market within Stephenville that gave them sufficient reason to return.
“Even before any of this economic profile that we’re receiving and the potential for growth, there’s still a market of 100,000 people on the southwest coast of Newfoundland that are closer to Stephenville than to Deer Lake, so we know that there’s 50,000 people that fly into Deer Lake, and 50,000 people that fly out of Deer Lake every year that are from Cape St. George, Burgeo, Port aux Basques, Codroy Valley, Stephenville, Stephenville Crossing. So there is a market here and I’m just really pleased that Sunwing is here.”