From Huddle – link to source story
Feb 25, 2021 by Derek Montague
Image: Halifax Stanfield Airport/Instagram
HALIFAX – The Halifax Stanfield International Airport (HSIA) was decimated financially in 2020. Due to the pandemic, the airport lost $70,000,000 in revenue. That number represents two-thirds of the money HSIA earned in 2019.
There are currently only four places you can directly fly to out of HSIA: St. John’s, Montreal, Toronto, and Calgary. Last year, before Covid-19 ruined everything, the airport was supposed to have 46 destinations. It will take much time after the pandemic to build those routes back up again.
“At the terminal building, we’re still seeing very few flights coming and going and it’s very quiet here. Many of the businesses are not open,” said Leah Batstone, a spokesperson for HSIA. “Seventy percent of the businesses are still closed due to the lack of activity and demand. And we’re not sure when any of them will ever be able to reopen.”
The early numbers for 2021 haven’t been calculated yet, but so far, it’s easy to tell people still aren’t travelling much during these winter months during Covid-19.
“So far, we can see that passenger traffic in 2021 has been pretty abysmal, to be honest,” said Batstone. “Over the last number of weeks, we have seen record low numbers of passengers at the airport and departing the airport.”
Back in 2019, it would have been normal for the Halifax airport to receive 4,000-6,000 passengers a day. Right now, says Batstone, they get 100-200 “if we’re lucky.” Right now, because of the pandemic, they are not getting numbers they would usually get from winter travelers heading south for some sun.
“This year it’s going to be challenging because we don’t have any of that travel we would normally see. It’s quite a stark difference to what we had even in 2020, but especially 2019.”
Unlike many other businesses, the HSIA can’t cut down on hours to save costs. The airport must function 24/7 in order to serve essential flights- such as medical travel and cargo shipments of Covid-19 vaccines. Therefore, the airport authority has been borrowing money to cover basic operations costs.
“We’ve been borrowing and adding to our debt, basically, to keep the lights on at this point,” said Batstone. “We remain open 24/7 to facilitate essential travel,”
“We have no shareholders or other means to manage our way through the crisis. The more we’re borrowing, the harder it will be to recover.”
HSIA has already received support from the federal government. They successfully applied for the wage subsidy program and, last year, they got nine months of rent relief from government programming. That’s right, Halifax Airport is technically a tenant as they have a lease with Transport Canada. The rent is directly tied to how many passengers use the airport. So, while the rent relief is welcome, it isn’t as big of a cost as it used to be. HSIA has received confirmation of rent support for 2021.
“So, the rent relief is helpful, but we have so few passengers, if we were paying the rent it wouldn’t be that much to start with,” said Batstone.
Batstone says it will take four to five years until the airport sees passenger levels return to 2019 numbers, and they are hoping the federal government will keep rent support going for that period.
For now, the HSIA is in talks with the provincial government about setting up rapid testing at the airport. They are also part of a project where wastewater is monitored for covid-19 levels.
“We would welcome having (Covid) testing at the airport,” said Batstone. “We would be open to PCR tests or rapid tests, but we want to be part of the solution. Testing here would give an added layer of safety and security for the general public.”