Ottawa airport facing ‘devastating decline’ due to COVID-19

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Officials say it could be years before service to some destinations returns

Hillary Johnstone · CBC News · Posted: Apr 03, 2020

The Ottawa airport on April 3, 2020. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Officials at the Ottawa International Airport say the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a “devastating decline” in traffic, and it could be years before the airport serves some destinations once again.

Revenues at the Macdonald–Cartier International Airport have “all but disappeared” in the wake of the pandemic, forcing it to halt spending on some projects, according to the airport authority’s president and CEO, Mark Laroche.

“The Government of Canada’s travel restrictions and recommendations took their toll on our operation very quickly,” Laroche said in a statement Friday morning.

I believe it will take years to build our passenger numbers back to 2019 levels.- Mark Laroche, Ottawa International Airport Authority

“Early days saw a flurry of repatriation flights for our March Break passengers. However, as they wound down, we saw a devastating decline in aircraft movements to approximately five to 10 per cent of what they were at this time last year,” Laroche said.

On a typical day, 7,000 passengers arrive at or depart from the airport, but earlier this week only 430 passengers were registered to depart on 13 flights.

Earlier this week, the federal government announced passengers exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus will no longer be allowed to board planes or trains to travel between provinces or cities anywhere in Canada. 

Laroche noted Air Canada and WestJet have cut between 80 and 95 per cent of their flights, Porter has suspended service until June 1, and American carriers have suspended service to Ottawa “with few exceptions.” 

He said Lufthansa will not operate its planned service between Ottawa and Frankfurt, Germany.

“What does the future look like for our airport? It is hard to say with any precision. I can say with certainty, though, that it will not be business as usual for some time,” Laroche said.

The check-in area at the Ottawa International Airport is deserted during what would normally by the busy morning peak time. (Supplied by the Ottawa Airport Authority)

Recovery could take years

“I believe it will take years to build our passenger numbers back to 2019 levels. I cannot realistically promise that all 45 destinations served by YOW before the pandemic will return quickly, including our European air service.”

Many restaurants and stores at the airport have closed as passenger traffic drops, and officials are anticipating further closures.

WATCH: VIDEO – click on link

Mark Laroche, president and CEO of the Ottawa Airport Authority, says the number of daily outbound travellers has dropped from over 7,000 before the pandemic to a mere 430 passengers on March 31. 1:03

Laroche said the airport has “halted” spending on capital programs and reduced other spending by at least $35 million, which has a “significant impact on employment.”

Construction of the Alt Hotel Ottawa Airport will be delayed, and the introduction of new concessions at the terminal will “take significantly longer” than the two years originally set aside.

Officials said the airport is required to remain open since it is considered critical infrastructure in support of passenger and cargo movement, repatriation activities, federal government operations and Ornge air ambulance service.