Air travel is about to go through its biggest transformation since 9/11 — and passengers will pay for it

News from the Vancouver Sun – link to story and videos

Gabriel Friedman | Publishing date:Jun 26, 2020 

All airlines have implemented temperature checks, health screening questions and enhanced cleaning. Seat distancing, or leaving the middle seat unoccupied on larger planes, and only booking every other seat on smaller planes, has also become de rigeur. REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR

Nearly two decades after the 9/11 terrorist attacks transformed airports, leading to security barriers where none had existed before, the coronavirus pandemic is once again upending air travel.

This time around, the focus is on health measures, and the use of technology that in theory could make the experience “touchless” and more automated, but could also lead to higher ticket prices.

Air travel is about to go through its biggest transformation since 9/11 — and passengers will pay for it

“We need faster, cleaner, better ways to get through the airport,” Robyn McVicker, vice president of operations and maintenance at Vancouver Airport Authority told the Financial Post. “It’s something that we believe is the future.”

Already, Vancouver airport and others are doubling down on touchless technology that allows passengers to print a baggage ticket and drop their bags off at a self-serve kiosk that eliminates the need to touch or interact with anyone at the airport.

She said her team is already working on a project called “Phoenix” that reimagines “every single process in the airport” using technology, whether that means waiting in line, waiting at the gate and even the need for paper tickets. In the future, McVicker thinks airports will begin using biometric facial scans, so that passengers can glide through the airport in less time, with less waiting.

“The industry has never been more aligned on how do we make things better than it is today,” said McVicker.

There is much at stake in figuring out how to bring air travel back. Airports across the country are already facing sharp declines in revenue. Even with widespread layoffs, some airports are looking to raise money by increasing the fees that passengers pay, or borrowing, just to support the costs of their overhead.

An empty check-in counter at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. REUTERS/CARLOS OSORIO

Nathan Janzen, a senior economist with the Royal Bank of Canada, said that aspects of the economy “that require people to congregate” will be the slowest to recover.

But he said airports form a crucial backbone to the economy, allowing people to travel to a region, facilitating investment in businesses and allowing a freer flow of goods.

“Those are the kinds of things that can be a structural impediment to a longer term to medium term recovery, if you don’t figure out a way to make them work,” Janzen said.

The drop in air travel has been dramatic. One day in mid-June, about 5,000 people arrived or departed on a flight out of the Vancouver International Airport — about 97 per cent less than the 75,000 people that would normally service the airport.

Across the country, other airports, big and small, are experiencing similar situations. In Calgary, for example, about 1,000 passengers were travelling on a day when normally there would be 24,500 passengers.

Toronto’s Pearson Airport reported a 97 per cent drop in passenger traffic in April.

At Winnipeg’s Richardson International Airport, around 350 people travelled through compared to nearly 13,000 on average at this time in prior years.

“But that’s really good news,” said Barry Rempel, president and chief executive of Winnipeg Airports Authority, “because we had days, for example, the 6th of May, we had fewer than a hundred people boarding.”

Rempel is hopeful that as federal and provincial authorities relax social distancing guidelines, air travel will slowly pick up again, but he knows that regional airports such as the one in Winnipeg will likely trail airports that have a more international flight list.

In any case, no one is under any illusion that air travel will snap back to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon.

In March, the country’s airlines gradually suspended most or in some cases all of their flights as federal and provincial health authorities issued new rules to contain the spread of COVID-19, in a move that corresponded with tens of thousands of layoffs.

Toronto-based Porter Airlines stopped flying altogether and still has no plans to resume flights until July 29 at the earliest.

Montreal-based Air Transat has said it plans to resume flying on July 23 after a four-month hiatus.

Calgary-based Westjet has said it is only flying five per cent of its schedule, and is not releasing a schedule beyond Aug. 5.

Montreal-based Air Canada has reduced its flight schedule by 85 to 90 per cent. A The company says it’s hopeful that it will see a recovery, which would mean that its flight schedule would only be reduced by 75 per cent.

All airlines have implemented temperature checks, health screening questions and enhanced cleaning. Seat distancing, or leaving the middle seat unoccupied on larger planes, and only booking every other seat on smaller planes, has also become de rigeur.

Transport Canada also requires all passengers at least two years old to bring their own face mask and wear it throughout the duration of the flight.

Despite these measures, people aren’t travelling.

“The airport’s not a comfortable place these days,” said Rempel. “It’s a welcoming building, but it’s empty.”

Alberta Health Services staff meet airline passengers entering the International arrivals area at the Calgary International Airport where they are directed to a new COVID-19 screening area. JIM WELLS/POSTMEDIA

To coax people back into airports, he said staff are taking extra precautions — hand sanitizer stations have been added throughout the building and the staff to passenger ratio is high enough that every single screen can be immediately cleaned after it’s used.

They have even installed a new technology that cleans the escalator handrail on a constant basis.

“Think of it as a bath that the handrail goes through every time it makes a circuit,” said Rempel. “That’s the kind of thing we’re doing.”

Still, Rempel said his revenues are currently about three per cent of normal. While the Winnipeg Airport Authority slashed capital spending plans from $175 million to $7 million, Rempel has also applied to raise the airportimprovement fee’ that every passenger pays as part of their ticket fare, from $25 to $38.

“If traffic comes back next year — it won’t, I believe — then we’ll be reducing that,” he said, adding that otherwise the increase should help sustain the airport through  2024 or 2025, by which time he expects air travel to resume to normal levels.

While the federal government has waived the lease payments that airports pay until December — which typically amount to between 11-12 per cent of total revenues,  according to several airport executives interviewed for this article — Rempel said it will not be enough to save his airport.

Reid Fiest, a spokesman for Calgary Airports Authority, said his company is hoping the federal waiver is extended for four or five years so airports can manage their debt.

“We’re doing a lot to try and make people feel comfortable and that it’s safe to travel,” said Fiest, adding he expects it could take three to five years, “but there is still a lot of uncertainty.”

The simple reality is no one knows when air travel will return.

“It’s the billion-dollar question,” said McVicker. “The reality is forecasting is a voodoo science right now.”

Three dead after float plane crashes near Edmonton airport: Mounties

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By The Canadian Press, Fri., July 3, 2020

LEDUC COUNTY, ALTA.—RCMP say three people have died in a plane crash south of Edmonton.

Mounties say they were alerted Friday morning that a float plane went down in a field in Leduc County east of the Edmonton International Airport.

Three bodies were found in the wreckage.

Cpl. Laurel Scott said it’s believed no one else was on the aircraft.

A manager at the nearby Cooking Lake Airport said the plane’s owner, who is from the area, had gone up with an experienced flight instructor to learn how to use new amphibious floats on the light utility Murphy Moose.

Sophie Wistaff, a spokesperson with the Transportation Safety Board, said two investigators were to arrive in the afternoon at the crash site.

She said she could not provide other details.

RCMP said officers and firefighters were holding the scene.

How safe is flying during the pandemic?

News from CBC News – link to story

Canadian airlines have dropped physical distancing on planes — a top safety measure, says B.C. health minister

Rafferty Baker · CBC News · Posted: Jul 03, 2020

The airline industry was among the first hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, as governments issued travel advisories, encouraging people to stay at home. Now WestJet and Air Canada have dropped physical distancing measures on flights and claim a combination of other measures will keep passengers and crew safe. (Eric Foss/CBC)

Passengers flying into YVR were alerted to six possible exposures aboard airplanes in June while Canadian airlines have now dropped in-flight physical distancing measures.

So how concerned should people be about flying?

Dr. Srinivas Murthy is an infection disease expert and associate professor at the University of British Columbia. He said he would weigh the risks and benefits of taking a flight before he set out.

“The thing we know about how the virus is transmitted is that in enclosed spaces, without ventilation, with many individuals indoors seems to be a high-risk zone for transmission,” said Murthy.

‘In theory it’s a reasonably high risk area’

“Whether that translates to airplanes, it’s difficult to say,” he said. “We haven’t seen a lot of airplane-based transmission — that’s mostly because the airlines haven’t flown as much with as many people — but in theory it’s a reasonably high-risk area to be in.”

Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an associate professor at the department of pediatrics in the faculty of medicine at the University of British Columbia, says in theory airplanes are high-risk zones for COVID-19 transmission, but relatively few cases have occurred. (CBC)

Earlier this week, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix called on his federal counterparts and the airlines to reveal the evidence that it was safe to drop physical distancing on flights.

On Thursday he seemed to soften his tone, but still stressed that of the various measures that can be taken to prevent the spread of the virus, physical distancing is at the top of the hierarchy.

“Physical distancing is something we preach here every day. Physical distancing saves lives and it’s important wherever you are,” Dix told reporters.

He said without that distance, people need to have discipline about wearing masks, washing hands and avoiding touching surfaces and faces.

‘You cannot travel if you are sick’

Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, highlighted the need to keep sick people off planes — a responsibility shared by passengers and airlines, she said.

“You should not, you cannot travel if you are sick or if you’ve been in contact with people who have COVID-19,” said Henry.

She also said that it’s still a challenge for health officials to efficiently and effectively get in touch with everyone who was on flights when a COVID-19 case has surfaced.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry stressed on Thursday the importance of avoiding air travel if you have ay COVID-19 symptoms. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

On Thursday the B.C. Centre for Disease Control warned passengers on four flights that arrived at YVR in June they had potentially been exposed to COVID-19 — in addition to two other flights that month.

The agency asked people aboard the affected flights to self-isolate and monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days.

In the case of two of the flights, 14 days had already passed. For two others, the intended self-isolation period has nearly elapsed.

The BCCDC did not answer a question from CBC News on Thursday asking why the warning came long after the potential contact, saying only that people can find out about possible exposure on flights and other public places on the agency’s website.

Both WestJet and Air Canada defend the safety measures they’re taking to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We are left to use a combination of approaches to mitigate risk as far as practical,” said a statement sent by Air Canada.

Both airlines highlighted their use of HEPA, or high-efficiency particulate air, filters, with WestJet claiming they remove “99.999 per cent of all airborne particles,” and Air Canada claiming they ensure complete changes of air every two to three minutes.

They have both been doing aircraft interior disinfecting between flights, with WestJet describing “fogging using a hydrogen peroxide-based solution.”

WestJet also highlighted mandatory pre-boarding temperature checks.

“It is noteworthy there have been no reports of outbreak clusters onboard individual flights during the COVID pandemic,” said the Air Canada statement.

Passengers near Manitoba COVID-19 case on June flights now told to self-isolate

News from CBC News – link to story

No new cases of COVID-19 announced in Manitoba on Thursday; province has 16 active cases

Aidan Geary · CBC News · Posted: Jul 02, 2020

COVID-19 samples at the B.C Centre for Disease Control lab in this April file photo. No new cases of COVID-19 were announced in Manitoba on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Some passengers on Air Canada flights last month are now being advised to self-isolate because they are considered close contacts of a COVID-19 case identified earlier this week in Manitoba, the province said Thursday.

No new cases of COVID-19 in the province were announced on Thursday, with a total of 16 active cases in the province.

The daily news release did, however, update a warning from earlier this week about a passenger who travelled by plane three times in June and tested positive for COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the province advised passengers on the flights to simply self-monitor for symptoms. However, on Thursday, that advice was updated to instruct passengers in affected rows to self-isolate for 14 days following the flight.

The province’s advisory includes:

  • June 18: Air Canada flight AC 295, from Winnipeg to Vancouver, rows 19-25.
  • June 21: Air Canada flight AC 122 from Vancouver to Toronto, rows not yet determined.
  • June 23: Air Canada flight AC 259, from Toronto to Winnipeg, rows 24 to 30.

People who were on those flights and in those rows are considered close contacts of the case, the province said. They are advised to self-isolate for 14 days from the time of the flight and monitor for symptoms.

If you were on the flight but not in the affected rows, you should self-monitor for symptoms, the province said.

In the past week, 10 new cases of COVID-19 have been announced in Manitoba. Eight of them were in the Winnipeg health region, according to provincial data, and the remaining two were in the Southern Health region.

At least four of the cases were linked to the trucking industry.

As of Thursday, 302 people have recovered from COVID-19 in Manitoba, the province said Thursday.

A total of 325 confirmed or probable cases have been identified in the province since the pandemic began, and seven Manitobans have died.

No one is currently in hospital or in intensive care for COVID-19, the province said.

On Wednesday, 512 tests were completed, with a further 503 tests on Tuesday. That brings Manitoba’s total to 64,329 tests since early February.

Masks to be made mandatory at Kelowna International Airport

News from Global News – link to story

By Darrian Matassa-Fung, Global News, Posted July 2, 2020

Starting Friday, all people inside YLW will be required to wear masks or face coverings.
Starting Friday, all people inside YLW will be required to wear masks or face coverings. Global News

As business resumes at the Kelowna International Airport during the coronavirus pandemic, more precautions are being put in place to help protect travellers and staff.

YLW will require that masks or face coverings be worn at all times while in public areas. 

Children under the age of two and people with medical conditions that prevent mask usage are exempt, according to the airport.

The airport says the new measures have been put in place due to an increase in air service and passengers.

“We’re expanding on measures at the airport effective Friday,” said Phillip Elchitz, a senior manager at YLW.

The new mandatory mask requirement will come into effect on Friday, July 3.

The requirement will be for any person inside YLW, including workers, volunteers, visitors and travellers.

It’s an expansion on a federal rule that requires travellers to wear a mask when physical distancing is not possible.

The airport says staff are focused on ensuring the health and well-being of everyone at YLW and that they are working closely with government and health officials.

A non-medical face covering can be as simple as a bandana or scarf that fully covers the nose and mouth. 

“If you go to the provincial government websites there is an outline of what is required,” said Elchitz.

Passengers will still be subject to a health check before boarding a flight and will be denied entry to the plane if they fail any of the questions.

YLW says it’s regularly reviewing existing safety measures and will adjust as necessary to combat COVID-19.YLW to stop hosting international passenger flights April 9 for duration of pandemic

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Air Canada cuts worry New Brunswick business community

News from CBC News – link to story

Air Canada announced Tuesday it is suspending 30 domestic routes, including six in New Brunswick

CBC News · Posted: Jul 02, 2020

Over the past few months, business travel has been replaced by Zoom calls and working from home, but as New Brunswick steadily reopens, the business community is concerned about the loss of six Air Canada routes.

David Duplisea, the CEO of the Saint John Chamber of Commerce, said the lost routes create a disconnect between Atlantic and the rest of the country. (Submitted by David Duplisea )

The CEO of the Saint John’s Chamber of Commerce said he’s worried about Atlantic Canada as a whole. 

“A robust air transportation network is really vital in Atlantic Canada, particularly,” said David Duplisea. “We do need those dependable and timely links in order to make it an attractive place to live, work and play.”

On Friday, Air Canada said it was suspending a total of six flights from three New Brunswick cities and closing its centre in Bathurst altogether. Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton all lost flights, including their only flights to Halifax.

Duplisea said the changes made by Air Canada are not surprising but they’re disappointing.

Air Canada estimates it will take three years for the industry to bounce back. 

Aviation analysis John Gradek of McGill University said he thinks that’s an optimistic estimate. He believes the timeline could be anywhere between three to five years.

But some of the suspended flights could start returning within a couple of years, he predicted. 

“I think everybody is looking at aviation as the problem child in the economy in terms of how quickly it will come back.”

John Wishart, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton, is hopeful that when travel picks back up, some of the Air Canada routes will be brought back. (Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton website)

John Wishart, the CEO of the Moncton Chamber of Commerce, hope the cuts are temporary and some flights will return to normal after the need for travel comes back. 

He said even though online meetings are becoming more normal it doesn’t completely erase the need for travel. 

“We’ve kind of pivoted to some online ways to connect, but there’s still a need to get to some of these major centres in central Canada.”

Duplisea said this situation highlights the need for government intervention. He wants the government to look into what it can do to help.

“This announcement really underscores the needs of the federal government to look at support for this entire sector.” 

Since Air Canada is no longer a Crown corporation, Gradek said, there is no real obligation on the government’s part to step in. 

Duplisea also wants to push for some of the lost routes to resume when it becomes feasible. 

“The airport is a crucial piece of infrastructure in our local economy, so we need to see what we can do to support that.”

With files from Information Morning Moncton and Information Morning Fredericton

3 flights to Vancouver International Airport possibly exposed to COVID-19

News from CTV News – link to story

Regan Hasegawa, Multi-skilled Journalist, CTV News Vancouver | July 2, 2020

YVR

Planes are seen on the tarmac at YVR in this photo from April 2019. (Gary Barndt / CTV News Vancouver)

VANCOUVER — Health officials are warning passengers on three flights that recently landed at Vancouver International Airport YVR to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control is not sharing which seats on the planes were affected. As a result, everyone who was on the flights is asked to self-isolate for two weeks from the day they landed in Vancouver.

These are the affected flights:

  •  Air Canada flight 217 from Saskatoon on June 16.
  •  Air Canada flight 557 from Los Angeles on June 18.
  •  Flair Airlines flight 8102 from Toronto on June 21.

Travellers on the flights won’t be contacted directly, as health officials stopped that practice back in March.

All airline passengers are encouraged to check the BCCDC website regularly for two weeks after they arrive back in B.C. to ensure their flight has not been exposed to the virus.  

North Bay mayor says Air Canada pullout is ‘devastating’ for city

News from CTV News – link to story

Brittany Bortolon, CTV News Northern Ontario Videojournalist | July 1, 2020

North Bay Mayor Al McDonald

North Bay Mayor Al McDonald says news this week that Air Canada is ending service between North Bay and Toronto is terrible news for the community. (File)

NORTH BAY — The Mayor of North Bay says news this week that Air Canada is ending service between North Bay and Toronto is terrible news for the community.

To make matters worse, Al McDonald said the city had no idea the devastating news was coming.

“This was very sad news for us,” McDonald said. “It was devastating for us and I can tell you the business community is going to be reaching out to us, our MPP and MP to say how important that airport is.”

McDonald said not only will travellers heading out on trips be impacted by the news, but so will hundreds of businesses and business professionals.

“That airport and that airline was critical to them being here in our community and that really showed, you know, three and a half months ago when council said we will fund the airport,” he said

McDonald said city council passed a motion earlier this spring to provide Jack Garland Airport with some financial relief — up to $200,000 per month — to cover expenses during the pandemic.

“There’s no question that it will be a topic on the future agenda,” he said. “I am supportive of keeping the airport open because of all the jobs that are in that sector.”

There was hope flights would resume in the fall. However, the airline announced Tuesday it’s suspending services on 30 domestic regional routes and closing eight stations at regional airports in Canada, citing “weak demand for business and leisure travel and government imposed travel restrictions.”

CTV News reached out to Air Canada for comment, but in an email, a representative said “we issued a very clear media release explaining our actions and at this point we have nothing further to add.”

2 injured in plane crash in Saint-Ours near Sorel, Que.

News from Global News – link to story

By Staff, The Canadian Press | Posted July 2, 2020

A small plane crashed in the Monteregie region on Thursday morning.
A small plane crashed in the Monteregie region on Thursday morning. Stephen C. Host/The Canadian Press.

Two people suffered serious injuries when their small plane crashed Thursday morning in Saint-Ours, Que., near Sorel in the Montérégie region.

It was police officers from the Pierre-De Saurel regional county municipality who reportedly answered the call around 9:45 a.m. on Thursday.

The aircraft crashed in a field along des Patriotes Road, and it reportedly took extraction equipment to get the two people out of the plane.

The Sûreté du Québec say the two suffered significant injuries, but their lives are not in danger.

Area firefighters were also called in as reinforcements since the fuel from the aircraft spilled at the scene of the crash.

The cause of the crash is unknown, and no details have been provided regarding the identities of the two injured people.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

PAL Airlines Reaffirms Commitment to Atlantic Canadian and Quebec Markets

From PAL Airlines

ST. JOHN’S, NL, July 2, 2020 /CNW/ – PAL Airlines is reaffirming the company’s commitment of continued service to destinations in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.

“PAL Airlines knows firsthand the uncertainty COVID-19 has created in Canadian commercial aviation,” said Calvin Ash, President of PAL Airlines.  “Given recent events, we believe it is important to restate our commitment to serving our network in Atlantic Canada and Quebec and to assure our passengers that they can continue to book future travel with confidence in our airline.”

PAL Airlines maintains an extensive presence throughout Atlantic Canada and Quebec with scheduled passenger and cargo services to a variety of destinations primarily operating De Havilland Dash 8 series aircraft. 

At this pivotal time for the aviation industry, PAL Airlines is proudly delivering essential air services throughout the region and responsibly increasing capacity to meet market demand.   The airline will continue to monitor events in the market and progressively enhance scheduled services to meet community requirements.

“Throughout our history, PAL Airlines’ strength has been our ability to offer a range of services that meet the diverse needs of our customers and businesses we serve,” said Jake Trainor, CEO of the PAL Group of Companies.  “By following those principles through COVID-19, we have been able to keep flying safely at a time when our communities have needed us most.”