Frustration, disappointment as Windsor excluded from latest list of airports allowed to take international flights

Versie Dortch

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Airport officials and local politicians were expressing exasperation and bewilderment Tuesday over Windsor’s exclusion from a list of additional Canadian airports allowed to take international flights.


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What that means in the short term is that the startup date for the Sunwing service that Windsorites have counted on for many years to take them to tropical destinations during the winter is cast in doubt, and the airport’s COVID-caused financial troubles won’t be assisted by the added revenues from these international flights that run three or four times a week. But Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens is also worried about the long-term implications — that carriers like Sunwing may shift their planes to other airports that are on the list and possibly never return.

There is a lot of stuff we’re working on which is exciting

“This is a serious issue that cannot be put off any longer,” Dilkens said Tuesday, expressing hope that federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra will use his visit to Windsor Wednesday to correct Windsor airport’s absence from the list.


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“They need to make a change here to add YQG (the acronym for Windsor Airport) to the list, so we can start generating revenue and get this airport back on its feet.”

The air traffic control tower at Windsor International Airport is seen on Thursday, April 15, 2021.
The air traffic control tower at Windsor International Airport is seen on Thursday, April 15, 2021. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Effective Nov. 30, eight more airports — in Hamilton, Waterloo Region, Regina, Saskatoon, Kelowna, Abbotsford, Victoria and St. John’s — are being added to the 10 airports in Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Toronto Island, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver already allowed international flights. The absence of Windsor is a “glaring” error, according to the mayor, which puts Windsor at a competitive disadvantage. Windsor currently has domestic flights from Air Canada Jazz and Porter. A seasonal WestJet service to Calgary will resume in the spring. Also excluded from the list is London’s airport, leaving  southwestern Ontario shut out of international flights.


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“The question is what will this do to our airport long term over the next five years when all of the planes have been redirected to other airports that are open and can accept international passengers?” Dilkens said.

Mark Galvin, CEO of the airport, said he spent Tuesday morning on the phone with various officials trying to understand why Windsor was not on the list. He didn’t get much in the way of satisfactory answers.

“I’m very disappointed,” he said. “We’re talking about a seasonal sun destination service that is largely filled with fully vaccinated Canadians who are going on vacation and coming back to YQG.”

And local people are very enthused about the prospect of a tropical getaway after a nearly two-year shutdown, he said, expressing hope that Windsor will get on the list in time for Sunwing flights to resume in January.


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“There is a pent-up demand for it.”

In a telephone interview, the minister said he understands why every airport wants to get back to where it was before the pandemic as quickly as possible. He wants them to get back quickly too, but for now, the reopenings must happen gradually, he said.

“I understand why the City of Windsor wants Windsor to be on the list and we are going to get there,” said Alghabra. “But these decisions are made in consultation with the Public Health Agency of Canada, with the capacity on the ground, with the demand, with the airline, with the airport,” he said. “There are a lot of factors that play into the decision of when and which airports are opening.”

To show that the government understands the importance of Windsor’s airport, Alghabra recited how the potential closure of Windsor’s control tower was extinguished in April after a public outcry.


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“This is just to show how important (Windsor Airport) is, and we will get there (allowing international flights) as we continue to move prudently and cautiously in our reopening plans.”

Ward 1 Coun. Fred Francis, who sits on the airport board, said Windsor’s exclusion makes no sense, especially since the U.S. is preparing to reopen the land border to non-essential travel Nov. 8, meaning Americans could more easily access international flights out of Windsor. Just Monday, council discussed a report on a projected deficit of $13 million, with about $10 million of that due to dramatically reduced traffic at the airport and tunnel. Prior to the pandemic, the tunnel and airport were each delivering $1-million annual dividends to city hall.


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“Everything we’ve done in the last 20 years to turn the airport around and really, really make it a profitable enterprise for the taxpayers of the City of Windsor, this sets us back,” said Francis. “Why Windsor’s excluded (when other competing airports like Waterloo and Hamilton are included) boggles my mind.”

Francis said while the impact on Sunwing flights is clear, what he can’t explain is how current efforts to land other international carriers are being threatened by Windsor’s exclusion.

“There is a lot of stuff we’re working on which is exciting.”

Ward 9 Coun. Kieran McKenzie, the airport board’s treasurer, said he’s highly disappointed by Windsor’s exclusion.

“There’s no clarity and from our standpoint there is no criteria being applied to make these decisions,” he said.

“The fact we cannot fly internationally because of the government’s choice here, that we still don’t understand, we think is misguided and we’re looking for some answers and frankly to be added immediately to the list.”

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