Harbour Air picks up pace, adds flights

Harbour Air is rolling out flight services as it ramps up operations under new safety measures to protect passengers and crew from COVID-19.

The next stage comes on June 1 when direct flights between Richmond and Victoria Harbour, Richmond and Nanaimo, and between Vancouver and Maple Bay resume.

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That will be followed on June 5 with service between Tofino and Vancouver. On June 29, Vancouver-Comox flights will be offered.

Harbour Air flies in and out of Victoria Harbour at 950 Wharf St., where it has its floating seaplane base.

It is currently operating daily flights between Vancouver and Victoria, Vancouver and Nanaimo, Vancouver and Salt Spring Island, Nanaimo and Sechelt, and Vancouver and Sechelt.

“We have seen the impact COVID-19 has had on the communities we service,” Chad Wetsch, Harbour Air’s executive vice-president, said in a Wednesday statement.

“We didn’t want to leave anyone stranded, so we responded quickly, changing how we operate to get people and supplies where they needed to go.”

Harbour Air is the largest seaplane airline in North America, normally carrying 500,000 passengers and operating 30,000 commercial flights annually.

“We know that returning to operations is not a return to normal. As we begin to look toward the future, we are working hard to ensure that we are providing the safe, essential travel services people have counted on for the past 38 years.”

The company has changed its service model to exceed both Transport Canada and Health Canada’s recommendations. It has imposed new cleaning and physical-distancing protocols and reduced operations to protect staff, passengers and the communities it serves in B.C.

“We had to look at every aspect of our business with a new lens, from the time people booked, to the onboard experience and then getting them where they need to go on the other end,” Wetsch said.

“We did come across some road blocks along the way in accessing supplies like masks and Plexiglas and ensuring staff could retain benefits.”

Harbour Air has been carrying essential-service workers and delivering freight including food and materials.

New protocols include:

• Using only its larger, 14-seat Otter aircraft.

• Reducing seating by 40 per cent to permit social distancing.

• Checking the temperature of all ground and flight crew when they arrive at and leave work.

• Providing passengers with gloves and masks that must be worn in the terminal and on board.

• Passengers will have to complete a health declaration form prior to flying and might have their temperature checked with a no-touch thermometer.

• Hand sanitizer in terminals

• Plastic dividers have been installed at check-ins and visual markers are in terminals to ensure physical distancing.

Seattle-based Kenmore Air, which flies to destinations in the Pacific North West including Victoria Harbour and Vancouver, is providing only domestic service — within the U.S. — at this time.

Vancouver’s Pacific Coastal Airlines is resuming its service on June 1 after suspending flights on March 25. Communities it serves include Victoria (at Victoria International Airport), Campbell River, Comox, Port Hardy and Tofino.

Helijet is running service with passenger numbers on each aircraft reduced to six from 12. Passengers are only seated in outer seats of each row in a helicopter.

Flights are offered between Victoria and Vancouver, and Nanaimo and Vancouver. It too has implemented increased sanitation procedures and brought in other health and safety measures.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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