Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Air Canada’s move to ground the only remaining flights into Sydney, Nova Scotia beginning Monday will cut Cape Breton Island off from the world and leave the region struggling, says a local business leader.

The move follows the suspension of WestJet service to Sydney that took effect in October, and will mean travellers to Cape Breton must fly into Halifax and then drive, adding about five hours on the road to get to Sydney, for instance.

“This will have a detrimental effect on our entire region,” Kathleen Yurchesyn, CEO of the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce, told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday.

“It’s going to affect our economy and our ability to grow and the sustainability of what we have established already.”

Both Air Canada and WestJet have suspended flights to Sydney indefinitely, saying it’s not commercially viable to continue flying to Sydney amid the pandemic.

Lack of commercial air service will cut off Cape Breton and its 132,000 residents from doing business with the rest of Canada and the world, says Yurchesyn. About 10 per cent of the island’s workforce relies solely on work outside the region.

About half of students enrolled at Cape Breton University are international students and the decision will also hurt tourism, says Yurchesyn, which brings in hundreds of millions in revenue.

Sydney’s J.A. Douglas McCurdy Airport employs 300 people and Yurchesyn says she also fears for plans to build a mega port on the island.

Yurchesyn says the region is petitioning the federal government to provide support to the national carriers and a return to a base level of service to the island.

Air Canada has also ended service to Saint John, N.B.

Derrick Stanford, president and CEO of the Saint John Airport Authority, says the last commercial flight out of the airport left at 7:30 a.m. Monday.

Stanford says the airport is still open for private jet service, medical evacuations and as a terminal for the Canadian Coast Guard.

Mike MacKinnon, CEO of the air terminal in Sydney, says the airport will shift to non-commercial service, including medical and cargo flights.

Stanford says he thinks the service reduction in Atlantic Canada will put the region at a disadvantage as the country begins its economic recovery.

-With files from the Canadian Press