The Saskatchewan government is getting rid of its executive air service as the provincial deficit soars past $1 billion.

The move is expected to save $700,000 to $1 million annually, the government said in a news release Thursday.

Use of the service has decreased drastically in recent years – down from 595 trips in 2006-07 to 165 trips in 2016-17, and mileage is down by 73 per cent.

The service was used by the lieutenant-governor, premier, cabinet ministers, MLAs and senior government officials.

“The use of Executive Air has dropped dramatically over the past decade but overhead costs have remained high,” Central Services Minister Christine Tell said in the release.

“It just doesn’t make sense in these challenging fiscal times to continue paying those high overhead costs when there are viable commercial options available in Saskatchewan to meet government travel needs.”

Elected officials and the lieutenant-governor will now travel by vehicle or use commercial and charter flight services when air travel is required to attend meetings and events around the province, the government said.

“Our government has already significantly reduced air travel, from 595 Executive Air flights in 2006-07 to 165 in 2016-17,” Tell said. “When it is necessary to fly, we will use the lowest cost commercial or charter option available.”

Discontinuation of the service takes effect Thursday and the government says efforts to wind down the service and sell the two aircraft will begin immediately. Affected employees have been notified of the decision today, and the Ministry of Central Services is working with employees and their union as per their collective bargaining agreement.

“We are committed to controlling spending and making the difficult decisions that need to be made,” Tell said.

“As government, we have to examine the services we use to ensure they are cost effective and sustainable. After examining the Executive Air service, the decision was made that it is no longer feasible to operate.”

The Saskatchewan Air Ambulance will continue to operate with no service changes.