A Robinson R44 helicopter is seen here setting down in Port Hood.

PORT HASTINGS: The operator of the airport has cancelled helicopter tours for the season.

Celtic Air Services, the service provider at the Allan J. MacEachen Airport, said it was forced to make the decision to protect its overall viability and preserve its work at the airport.

In a Facebook post on Aug. 20, Celtic Air Services president and Flight Operations Manager, Dave Morgan, said a weather-related cancellation or mechanical problems with their tour helicopter could have caused a “ripple effect” across the entire business.

Despite what Morgan called a “COVID bump” last year with many local residents taking advantage of the Atlantic bubble, uncertainty over public health restrictions let to fewer bookings this year.

“Last summer, we had sort of what I’d call a COVID bump where people from around had maybe a little of extra income, or weren’t travelling and had nowhere to spend it. We’re extremely grateful and so lucky to have had so many local people and folks that were home visiting family and stuff within the Atlantic bubble to take in our services and to spend their money with us. This year, it’s not the same, we noticed a definite fall in our advance bookings,” Morgan told The Reporter. “The helicopter belongs to us but it’s away on a lease and we were continually assessing when would be a good start date; when there’d be enough traffic to support the fixed costs of the operation to make sure that we didn’t go any further behind. We just got to a point where we had to pull the pin and start to refund clients and get folks to plan for something different.”

In the Facebook post, Morgan said bringing the gift of flight to people and showing off the local scenery every day is intoxicating.

“It’s the best part of all of our jobs. Typically, folks that are coming to fly with us, it’s their first time or it’s the best day of their year,” Morgan said. “We have all kinds of folks calling this week looking to book helicopter tours and we could cry when we answer the phone.”

In the social media post, Morgan said operating a capital-intensive business through the global pandemic has been a challenge, noting that 2020 revenues declined by more than 90 per cent from the previous year.

Morgan said their business consists of the Allan J. MacEachen Airport, the air charter company AxAir Aviation, and helicopter tours.

Morgan said on Facebook that he hoped the border opening would help the business start to return to normal.

“The fixed costs of the operation are huge, there’s three salaries tied directly to it, and then operating the helicopter, the operating costs are expensive,” he noted. “The only one that’s doing much of anything right now is the charter business. The airport, we’re busy providing services, and we’re here every day, and we’re cutting the grass, painting the lines, and making the coffee, but unfortunately, customs is still unavailable in Nova Scotia outside of the Halifax airport. All of those jets that normally come in and take fuel, and services, they’re already being serviced in Halifax. They’re just dropping people off when they get here and there’s no real revenue tied to that unfortunately.”

Earlier this year, Celtic Air Services withdrew its bid to cover commercial flights between the Sydney and Halifax Airports.

With airline services grounded — a subsequent fallout from the pandemic — Celtic Air aimed to take over the Sydney to Halifax route to bridge the gap in commercial transport after Air Canada and West Jet pulled operations from that route, last year.

Morgan said the plan was shelved after PAL Airlines announced it was going to provide that service.

Morgan said things are not all bad at the local airport. They have witnessed more Canadian traffic this year, and other positive developments.

“We had lots of time to add different services and grow our offering of services. We have a second shuttle van on the road right now. We’re exploring acquisitions in the area and what we could end up doing next season,” he said. “We’re putting on different air tours with our charter aircraft with AxAir Aviation, our sister company. We’re doing our tours now with the airplane. We’re doing a dinner package to the Magdalene Islands that’s very well received. We’ve got stuff going on that we didn’t have before.”

Over the coming weeks, Morgan said Celtic Air will contact with those who booked a tour, those who purchased a gift card and those who paid in advance. For refunds, email them directly at: tours@celticairservices.com or message them on their Facebook page with contact information and reservation or gift card numbers.