Trudeau airport operator says passenger traffic unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels before 2024

Passenger volumes fell 89 per cent this quarter compared to the same time last year.

Frédéric Tomesco  •  May 06, 2021

The main terminal at Trudeau Airport in Dorval, west of Montreal Thursday August 16, 2018.
The main terminal at Trudeau Airport in Dorval, west of Montreal Thursday August 16, 2018. PHOTO BY JOHN MAHONEY /Montreal Gazette files

Passenger traffic at Montreal’s Trudeau International Airport is unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels for at least three years, forcing much-needed runway modernization work to be pushed out into the future.

First-quarter revenue plunged 74 per cent from the same period a year ago to $39.1 million, airport operator Aéroports de Montréal said Thursday. Passenger volumes fell 89 per cent to 436,000.

Travel restrictions and extended border closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led ADM to record a $234 million shortfall last year. Some 5.4 million people took off from or landed in Montreal last year, down from 20.3 million a year earlier. ADM now expects a 39 per cent decline in 2021 traffic, to 3.3 million passengers.

“When are we going to back to something like 20 million passengers again? We don’t think it’ll be before 2024 or 2025,” Aéroports de Montréal chief executive Philippe Rainville told reporters Thursday.

“Things are very slow. At 3.3 million passengers, for all intents and purposes, we’re closed.”

Sustained traffic growth is unlikely before 2028 or 2029 because business travel will be slow to come back, according to Rainville. Until the health crisis, business travellers accounted for about 40 per cent of traffic at the airport.

In February, ADM warned losses could hit $300 million this year as COVID-19 continues to decimate passenger traffic and revenue.

ADM last month raised $400 million via a bond sale that will allow the operator to “survive 2022 completely, perhaps part of 2023 as well,” Rainville said Thursday. “We’re well positioned to make it through the rest of the crisis, but we need a recovery in 2022. Something has to happen in 2022.”

Despite the influx of cash, ADM lacks the necessary resources to complete the modernization of one of the airport’s two main runways, Rainville said. Work on Runway 06L, which will last an entire summer, is estimated to cost $70 million, the CEO said.

“This year and last would have been the ideal time to perform the work, but we don’t have the money,” he said. “So we’ll have to do it when traffic is back, which will be more complicated. Will it be in 2022? Possibly, if not in 2023.”

While ADM has asked the federal government for financial help to rebuild the runway, Ottawa’s recent decision to allocate $100 million toward the construction of a Réseau Express Métropolitain station at Trudeau airport probably reduces the odds that the required funding will be made available.

Other projects — such as revamped parking lots and the planned construction of new departure gates — have also been delayed because of a lack of cash, Rainville said.

“With the exception of the REM station, everything is on hold,” he said.