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.”

Porter Airlines announces new restart date of Aug. 31

From Porter Airlines

TORONTO, June 29, 2020 /CNW/ – Porter Airlines is modifying its return-to-service date in light of ongoing government travel restrictions. The new restart date is Aug. 31, instead of the previously-announced target of July 29.

“Our ability to successfully relaunch service is directly tied to the lifting of travel restrictions,” said Michael Deluce, president and CEO, Porter Airlines. “We believe it is getting closer to a time when people can travel more freely and are optimistic that key border closures and mandatory quarantines will begin easing, so that we can recommence operations.”

Details on Porter’s new Healthy Flights program, designed to keep both passengers and team members safe, will be shared in the coming weeks.

To provide flexibility and give travellers peace of mind when purchasing for future travel, Porter is waiving change and cancellation fees on all fares booked between today and Aug. 31. This also applies to Porter Escapes vacation packages.

Porter temporarily suspended operations as of March 21, due to increasingly-restrictive government travel limitations associated with COVID-19.

Flights resume at Saint John Airport

News from CBC News – link to story

Flights resume at Saint John Airport

Saint John Airport officials are worried passengers from outside New Brunswick will be turned away by border patrols as Air Canada resumes flights from Montreal to the Port City.

One daily flight arrived at the Saint John Airport shortly before 3:30 p.m. and was to depart at 4:30 p.m. Border patrol officers with the province are questioning travellers arriving at the airport. 

“Obviously, you have to have a legitimate reason … on why you’re coming into New Brunswick, and if those are met, than you should be OK to come in,” said Jacques Fournier, director of commercial development at the Saint John Airport. 

“If they’re not, there’s always a chance they could get turned away.” 

He said the plane is a 78-seat aircraft, which has been upgraded from the 50-seat commercial aircraft originally planned. 

An Air Canada flight from Montreal has arrived at the Saint John Airport on Monday afternoon. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

“Obviously, the demand is a little more than we thought.”

But Fournier said some seats won’t be used, so passengers can keep their distance from each other on the plane.

“I would have to say the aircraft will be pretty busy today.”

Flights at all three of New Brunswick’s largest airports have been reduced since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, and service in Saint John was suspended altogether.

Saint John Airport staff have also taken steps to make sure passengers can physically distance themselves from one another, including when they’re lining up to get on a plane.

People permitted to come into the province are still required to self-isolate for two weeks, with the exception of New Brunswick residents working who have been working outside the province.

Geoffrey Downey, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, said there are two peace officers and two screeners at each airport during hours of operation.

“Some people still need to travel and want to travel,” said Fournier. “I believe we will still see people with cottages here in New Brunswick coming in.”

Additional flights to Toronto and Montreal from Saint John will start on July 1.

“It’s been a while since we’ve seen commercial traffic coming back into the Saint John Airport,” Fournier said. “So it is very exciting.”

More flights added to Moncton offerings

Toronto and Montreal flights that were previously suspended to and from the Moncton Roméo LeBlanc International Airport, also resumed Monday. They include one daily flight to Toronto and Montreal until June 30.

In July, flights to each city will operate twice a day, but exceptions could apply, said Julie Pondant, a spokesperson for the airport.  

Halifax and Ottawa flights are suspended until Sept. 7.

WestJet currently operates three days a week to Toronto from the Moncton airport.

Swoop Airlines has postponed service to the Moncton airport. 

The Fredericton International Airport has two daily Air Canada flights to Montreal and three WestJet flights per week to Toronto. 

 “The airport has been open continuously, with both Air Canada and WestJet continuing to serve YFC, although on a reduced schedule,” said Kate O’Rourke, a spokesperson for the Fredericton International Airport. 

Porter and Sunwing have both suspended operations until the end of July at New Brunswick airports.

Airline Update Summary

Air Canada, WestJet, Transat, Sunwing and more: The latest updates amid the coronavirus pandemic

News from Travelweek Group – link to story | 17 June 2020

Air Canada, WestJet, Transat, Sunwing and more: The latest updates amid the...

TORONTO — Canada’s airlines have taken swift action amid border closures and travel restrictions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In many cases airlines have temporarily suspended operations entirely.

Here’s the latest from Canada’s airlines. Updates will be added as soon as they become available.

LATEST UPDATE: June 16 – WestJet; June 12 – Transat; June 11 – Sunwing; June 9 – WestJet; June 4 – Flair Airlines; May 27 – Porter Airlines; May 20 – Sunwing; May 11 – Air Canada


AIR CANADA

UPDATED MAY 11: Air Canada has extended its route suspensions until at least May 31 and into early June for a large swath of its network, with some exceptions. On May 8 ACV notified the trade that Air Canada’s operating schedule for June, while certainly reduced, includes service to Cancun, Varadero, Cayo Coco, Montego Bay, Barbados, Paris, Athens and Barcelona. Updated information about route suspensions for flights within North America as well as Atlantic, Pacific, South America and Mexico/Caribbean routes can be found here.


FLAIR AIRLINES

UPDATED JUNE 4: Flair Airlines has announced that it will resume service to Kelowna and Winnipeg while delaying the launch of other destinations as part of its new summer schedule. Its current route schedule will be expanded to include both Kelowna and Winnipeg in addition to Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. However, as a result of ongoing travel restrictions, Flair will also be delaying the launch of service into Ottawa and Atlantic Canada. Full refunds are being offered to passengers booked on cancelled flights to the affected destinations: Ottawa, Halifax, Saint John, N.B., and Charlottetown. Impacted guests will be contacted through email with instructions on how to receive their refunds. The airline’s latest change policies are at https://flyflair.com/travel-info/customer-service/covid-19-updates.


PORTER AIRLINES

UPDATED MAY 27: Porter Airlines has pushed back its temporary suspension of flights to July 29. Porter is waiving change and cancellation fees on all fares booked between May 26 and July 29. This also applies to Porter Escapes vacation packages. See https://s3.amazonaws.com/eporter.flyporter.com/Suspension/index.html.


SUNWING

UPDATED JUNE 11: Sunwing has suspended all southbound flights through July 31. Passengers with departures dates for flights or vacation packages March 17 – July 31 are eligible to receive a future travel credit for the value of the original amount paid. The credit can be redeemed against future travel to anywhere Sunwing Airlines operates for up to two years from the original departure date For departure dates Aug. 1, 2020 onwards standard terms and conditions apply to changes and cancellations. For the most up to date information see https://www.sunwing.ca/en/promotion/packages/travel-advisory/.


SWOOP

Swoop has suspended all regular international and transborder flights until May 31. Check https://www.flyswoop.com/coronavirus/ for the latest updates. Swoop’s ModiFly is included in all new bookings more than seven days from departure and free to add for existing bookings more than seven days from departure. Swoop’s repatriation flights started March 23.


TRANSAT

UPDATED JUNE 12: Transat is set to resume both its flights and tour activities starting July 23. Its new flight schedule, running through Oct. 31, will include 22 destinations in Europe, the South, the U.S. and Canada. South and Europe packages will be available, with Transat’s network of travel agencies gradually reopening starting June 15. More information for Transat can be found  at https://www.airtransat.com/en-CA/book/resumption-of-our-operations#%2Fresults.


WESTJET

UPDATED JUNE 16: From July 5 through August 4, WestJet will offer operations to 45 destinations including 39 in Canada, five in the U.S. and one in Mexico. On June 1 WestJet announced it was offering refunds for select flights that include a U.S. or UK destination. The policy does not include flights within Canada or to continental Europe, Mexico or the Caribbean. If clients chose to voluntarily cancel their booking, they are not eligible for a refund to original form of payment, with some exceptions. The refunds apply to U.S. and UK flights March 1 – June 30.

Stephenville council approves cash for private company to manage airport

News from CBC News – link to story

Council already voted once against financing Winnipeg company’s involvement

CBC News · Posted: Jun 15, 2020

Mayor Tom Rose says the municipal funding approved Monday will largely be repaid by the province. (Tom Rose/Facebook)

Stephenville’s town council voted Monday to spend $223,000 to hire a private company to try to bring its beleaguered airport back from the brink.

The vote was on a proposed management contract between Stephenville’s airport authority and Winnipeg Airport Services Corporation, a company that provides an array of aviation services to Canadian airports from Kamloops to Iqaluit. Its CEO reached out to Stephenville council in November, said the town’s mayor, with meetings and discussions culminating in the proposed plan.

The funding matter came up at its last public meeting June 4, and was defeated by a 4-3 vote. Following several subsequent private meetings, on Monday the nays recanted and the motion passed unanimously.

“Having unanimous support shows that we as a council are working together. We’re going to move this file forward,” said Mayor Tom Rose at the meeting which took place via a live-streamed video conference.

During the meeting, Rose said most of the $223,000 will be repaid by the provincial government, with Stephenville taxpayers on the hook for about $13,500.

Coun. Mark Felix, a former council finance chair who has been a critic of the town’s financial support of the airport in the past, was one of the people who changed his mind to support Monday’s vote, given the money was now largely going to be repaid.

“I’m a supporter of the airport, but not at all costs,” he said.

“As we reach sustainability in maybe three years from now, the airport might be putting money back into the town council, and that’s my goal,” Rose said, in an earlier interview with the CBC Newfoundland Morning Show.

PAL Airlines ended its service to Stephenville earlier in the year, saying with fewer than 150 passengers a year, the route was no longer viable. (CBC )

Dwindling flights

Sustainability is a far cry from the current financial situation of the airport, which has been steadily losing traffic. 

In May, Porter Airlines and Sunwing cancelled their summer services to Stephenville, totalling a loss of about 60 flights a year. That comes on the heels of anchor tenant PAL Airlines ending its year-round service in January, saying that route was no longer viable.

Several councillors on Monday spoke of efforts underway to attract a new airline, hinting that a company is interested in providing regular service to Halifax, Sydney and St. John’s, and that further fundraising efforts would be required to make that a reality.

“I’m sure we’ll be bringing more information on that to the weeks that come,” said Depurty Mayor Susan Fowlow.

“This is the first step, which is to get this company in and get things moving.”

Rose said he has spoken to the provincial government and it has promised to chip in a portion of the needed funds.

“They’re supporting this deal because they feel that Winnipeg is the right equation, the right business modelling, the right company, to finally get Stephenville back on track,” Rose said.

Rose said WASCO’s aviation expertise gives him confidence.

“They have the track record. They have the expertise and competencies, they’re subject matter experts in the field, and I’m really excited,” he said.

While official direction for the future rests with the Stephenville Airport Corporation, a non-profit airport authority run by a board of directors, Stephenville’s council has contributed to the airport financially for years. 

In September, Felix told CBC that the town provided a $750,000 grant to the airport in 2016 meant to support financial viability by 2019.

In 2019, the town gave the airport another $570,000.

Stephenville airport loses summer flights from Porter, Sunwing

News from CBC News – link to story

Airport to lose about 60 seasonal flights a year

CBC News · May 27, 2020

Porter and Sunwing have both cancelled summer flights to Stephenville. (CBC/Canadian Press)

Stephenville’s struggling airport has been dealt another blow, as two more airlines have cancelled their summer flights to the western Newfoundland destination.

Sunwing Airlines announced last week that when its summer flights between Toronto and Newfoundland begin June 26, they won’t be flying to Stephenville.

On Tuesday, Porter Airlines announced its planes would stay on the ground until July 29 due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, and cancelled its summer flights to Stephenville entirely.

Mayor Tom Rose said he was expecting that Porter might not fly to Stephenville this summer, but he was surprised Sunwing chose to fly to Deer Lake.

“I think Sunwing probably looked at their travel capacity and the numbers that were going to Deer Lake and Stephenville and probably made a business decision,” he said.

“[That’s] unfortunate, because they’ve been here for about a decade now.”

The announcements from Porter and Sunwing come just months after PAL Airlines flew its last flight from Stephenville in January, leaving the airport without a year-round commercial air service.

With Porter and Sunwing gone, Rose said, the airport will lose about 60 seasonal flights a year.

Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose says he expects positive announcements for the airport in the next month or two. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

He said the town has been working with the Stephenville Airport Corporation to try to attract travellers in the region back to Stephenville and to encourage more airlines to offer flights from the airport.

The mayor said he also expects positive announcements in the next month or two that will make Stephenville “a more robust, busier airport for domestic travel.”

“Our airport’s been hurting for years, we’ve been putting a fair bit of municipal funds into the airport to keep it going, but it hasn’t been sustainable,” he said.

“[But] I’m pretty excited for 2021.”

‘Big opportunities’ for Stephenville

Rose said as travel restrictions due to the pandemic begin to lift, Stephenville could take advantage of increases in travel within Canada. 

“People, I believe, are going to be a little hesitant to fly international, but they’ll feel a little bit more assurance and easiness about flying domestically.… There’s big opportunities for us,” he said.

In the meantime, Rose said, other sources of revenue, like air ambulance and military operations, can help keep the airport going, and the town will be providing more funding to the airport as part of a restructuring plan, in addition to a $100,000 grant given to the airport in March.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the Stephenville Airport Corporation said it was disappointed by Porter’s decision to cancel its flights to the airport, but understands the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a very short season and considering the provincial travel restrictions in place for Newfoundland and Labrador at this time, it would be very challenging for leisure air service to resume and be profitable,” the statement reads.

“We continually work with air carriers to encourage them to consider Stephenville Airport as a leisure market, as we have established that there is a high propensity for visiting friends and relatives in the core summer season and holidays.”

Porter Airlines deferring resumption of service to July 29

From Porter Airlines

TORONTO / May 26, 2020 – Porter Airlines is deferring its resumption of flights until July 29, one month later than previously scheduled, due to ongoing COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

“We want to see our planes in the sky as soon as possible and are actively working to prepare for our resumption of service. However, the ongoing uncertainty presented by government travel restrictions, including border closures, is impacting our ability to operate flights,” said Michael Deluce, president and CEO of Porter Airlines. “We are closely watching developments and know that Porter will be an important part of providing people with travel options as the economy recovers.”

Seasonal summer markets that Porter intended to serve in 2020 are being cancelled as part of this service deferral. Muskoka, Ont., and Stephenville, N.L., are the two destinations affected.

Porter is preparing to introduce enhanced health and safety measures for its return to service. Details of these initiatives will be announced closer to when flights restart, so that plans are as closely aligned with the latest public health recommendations as possible.

To provide flexibility and give travellers peace of mind when purchasing for future travel, Porter is waiving change and cancellation fees on all fares booked between today and July 29. This also applies to Porter Escapes vacation packages.

Battered Canadian airline industry pushing for government bailout

News from CBC News – link to story

Consumer group wants strings attached to taxpayer help, including refunds for cancelled flights

Ashley Burke · CBC News · Posted: May 02, 2020

Some Canadian airlines are in talks with the federal government and asking for a relief package for the entire industry that’s shedding tens of millions of dollars a day as planes sit idle due to the pandemic. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press )

Crippled by COVID-19, Canada’s airline industry says it’s plummeting into insurmountable debt as planes sit idle and people cancel or postpone travel plans.

Behind the scenes, major airlines are pressing the federal government for an aid package to help them survive the pandemic and quickly recover when countries finally lift their travel restrictions.

“The carriers are burning through cash,” said Mike McNaney, the president of the National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents Air Canada, Air Transat and WestJet.

“The industry will not be able to get out of this challenge unless there’s government assistance.”

Heading into the pandemic, some of Canada’s large airlines were riding a financial high. But COVID-19 brought international travel to a halt, something the sector has never experienced before.

Some airlines stopped flying altogether. Others, such as Air Canada, scaled back operations by more than 90 per cent because of the unprecedented drop in demand.

Thousands of planes now sit parked across the country, costing air carriers tens of millions of dollars daily. And there’s no end in sight, said McNaney.

Airlines have been tapping into Canada’s wage subsidy program to hire back thousands of laid-off workers, but say they need an infusion of cash, loans and a freeze on taxes and fees to prop up the industry.

A consumer group warns that if a taxpayer bailout is on the way, it should come with strings attached banning airlines from paying executive bonuses and requiring them to reimburse consumers for cancelled flights during the pandemic.

Parked planes with big bills

Planes worth $10 billion are parked at airports across Canada, bleeding money, said McNaney. He added he’s “astounded” that 90 per cent of the market is gone.

Most airlines finance the purchase of their aircraft, which can cost more than $100 million each. The engines themselves are so expensive that they’re sometimes paid off separately, said John McKenna, president of the Air Transportation Association of Canada, which represents carriers like Porter and Sunwing Airlines.

“It’s been a catastrophe,” said McKenna. “Everyone is hurting. We are a capital intensive industry.

“Planes cost tens or sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars. For them to be profitable they have to be flying all the time. Sitting there, you still have to insure them, maintain them, and you have to pay for them.

“You’re not generating any money from them. You’re just losing it.”

Porter Airlines suspended all flights during the pandemic, which is hitting the airline and tourism industries hard. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Complicated process to restart industry

Sunwing’s president Mark Williams said some companies are managing their financial losses but won’t be able to sustain it for months on end.

“There isn’t a sector that’s been more impacted by this,” said Williams on Thursday at a virtual Canadian Club Toronto event. “We’re really looking for liquidity.

“It’s not reasonable to expect that any airline in Canada can go on like this for six months without getting some sort of financial support from the government.”

A vice president at Air Canada recently said he anticipates air travel will resume worldwide by Christmas. But without federal aid, McNaney said, it will be a struggle for airlines to ramp up quickly.

“It’s going to be a very complicated process to restart aviation,” he said. “We’ve never seen 90 per cent of capacity parked at one point in time.

“That’s like trying to walk out into a parking lot after a [hockey] game with 15,000 cars in the lot and none of them turn over because it’s too cold and their engines have all shut down. So you have to get all those cars ramped up and ready to roll. Then you have to find your way out to the parking lot.”

McNaney said the government needs to stabilize the airline industry so it can start working out the logistics of re-starting with air carriers, staff and government agencies. The longer they wait, the tougher that process will be, he said.

McNaney added that the airline and tourism industries are key to rebuilding Canada’s economy.

“We recognize there are certain industries that have been extremely hard hit by both the drop in oil prices and the COVID-19 challenge, whether it’s airlines or oil and gas or tourism,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on April 1. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Government evaluating ‘all options’

A month ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he recognized the industry has been hit “extremely” hard and that help was on the way.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau has waived airport authorities’ rent fees, worth an estimated $331 million. The government is giving $17 million to Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut to help airlines flying essential goods to remote northern communities.

Morneau’s office said the government is still evaluating “all options to support the industry.”

“We have been in touch with airlines and we understand the impact COVID-19 is having on their industry and we are with the workers who are facing a difficult situation in these unprecedented times,” said spokesperson Maéva Proteau in a statement to CBC News.

Williams said talks continue with the government to come up with an equitable solution so that all companies — big and small — receive help.

“The government shouldn’t be picking winners or losers here,” he said. “They need to support the industry as a whole.”

Europe, U.S. promising bailouts

Some European nations and the U.S. have agreed already to bailouts. France and the Netherlands are providing a 10-billion-euro taxpayer-funded bailout to save Air France-KLM.

The Trump administration agreed to a $25 billion bailout to prop up its airline industry. Canada’s industry is roughly ten times smaller than the American one. Some Canadian pilot and airline associations have told CBC News a $5 billion bailout from the federal government would be reasonable.

But airlines have been hesitant to put a price tag on damage that’s still unfolding, and have not offered a number to the federal government.

Customers should be reimbursed, says consumer group

If Canada does announce a bailout, some argue there should be strict criteria to ensure taxpayer money isn’t misused.

John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said Ottawa should focus on “making sure companies couldn’t skim off excess profits through the bailout by giving dividends to their shareholders with that money, or giving large executive bonuses.

“These sorts of things should be prohibited.”

Lawford said the government also should make it mandatory for airlines to use some of the government aid package to reimburse customers for flights cancelled due to the pandemic.

There are two proposed class-against lawsuits against major Canadian airlines seeking full refunds for passengers whose flights were cancelled during the pandemic, according to the consumer group Air Passenger Rights. That same group has also taken the Canadian Transportation Agency to court over the issue. 

“It’s a large expense for the average consumer,” said Lawford. “The $3,000 to $4,000 dollars for a large vacation you’ve been saving up for multiple years is a large cost for consumers to absorb.”

Some analysts have suggested that it could take more than five years for the airline sector to return to the same traffic it saw before COVID-19 hit.

Airports hammered by COVID struggle to survive; $2B in losses predicted

News from CTV News – link to story

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press Staff ~ Published Thursday, April 30, 2020

Toronto Pearson International Airport

People carry luggage at Pearson International Airport in Toronto in this file photo dated Dec. 20, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

TORONTO — Clobbered by anti-pandemic measures that have stifled travel and grounded much of the world’s commercial aviation, Canada’s airports are predicting around $2 billion in lost revenues this year.

The isolation of would-be travellers, border closures and flight cancellations have led to a precipitous decline in demand for plane tickets and, by extension, airport services.

“Our airports have seen traffic and revenues plummet significantly — an average of about 90 per cent,” said Daniel-Robert Gooch, head of the Canadian Airports Council, which represents 100 airports. “Looking ahead to the end of the year, airports anticipate year-end revenues to be down about 55 per cent from where they would have been, even more at smaller airports.”

The bottom line, Gooch said, were anticipated losses of between $1.8 billion and $2.2 billion.

Globally, commercial air traffic shrunk 41 per cent below 2019 levels in the last two weeks of March alone, according to Flightradar24.com. Canada, too, has been hit hard.

Emergency isolation measures, including the closure of the U.S.-Canada border and stay-home directives, brought the rush of normal air traffic to a crawl. At least six regional airports, from Saint John, N.B. to Prince Rupert B.C., have lost scheduled passenger service altogether.

At Canada’s largest airport, Toronto Pearson International, plummeting passenger traffic has left normally bustling, frenetic terminals looking like gleaming ghost towns. About 5,000 passengers are moving through the facility each day, down from a normal 130,000, the airport said.

Tori Gass, with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, said the number of flights has dropped from an average of 1,300 per day to about 350.

“There are approximately nine passenger airlines operating at Pearson compared to 67 airlines that were operating previously,” Gass said.

Several Canadian carriers, such as Porter Airlines and Sunwing, stopped regular flights altogether. Larger carriers, such as Air Canada and WestJet, have been limping along on drastically curtailed passenger loads, waiting along with everyone else for the pandemic skies to clear. That’s unlikely to happen any time soon.

“We anticipate the recovery to be protracted — faster at larger hub airports than elsewhere in the system — with passenger traffic in 2020 at only about 60 per cent of 2019 levels,” Gooch said.

Canada’s airports generate about $19 billion for the country’s economy and employ 194,000 people.

The sharp traffic reduction has forced airports, normally major economic hubs in their own right, into cutting mode. Some, like Calgary and Edmonton, have partially closed terminals. The airport in Windsor, Ont., suspended all commercial flights. Other measures include cutting employee wages or hours, or outright layoffs.

On Thursday, for example, Vancouver’s airport authority, which employs about 500 people across operations, finance, engineering, human resources and other sectors, became the latest to offer staff voluntary layoffs.

Gooch said about a dozen municipal and territorial airports appeared to be ineligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which would allow others to avoid immediate layoffs. Either way, he said, airports were struggling to cover costs, with borrowing their way through the crisis only punting the problem down the road.

While freight traffic has risen, the increase has barely offset the losses.

“Cargo aircraft movements are a fraction of normal passenger aircraft movements at most airports, and cargo doesn’t pay airport improvement fees, park at the airport, shop in the stores or eat in the restaurants,” Gooch said.

The industry, Gooch said, was hoping the federal government — already a financial life-support system for millions of Canadians and businesses — will offer loan or bond guarantees along with interest-free loans repayable over a longer period.

Airports also want Ottawa to scrap ground rents to allow them to conserve cash, focus on operations, and pay off debt acquired during the pandemic. Smaller airports need funding for essential operating expenses.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 30, 2020.

N.B. airports will lose millions this year

News from CBC News – link to story

Normal traffic won’t be back before 2022, caution some industry experts

Rachel Cave · CBC News · Posted: Apr 30, 2020

Airports across Canada are being cautioned to expect a slow recovery. (Submitted by Peter Sonnenber)

New Brunswick’s three largest airports are counting up their losses for 2020 and bracing for more lean years to follow. 

“We’ve seen a 94 per cent decrease in passenger traffic and a 15 per cent decrease in cargo,” said Moncton airport CEO Bernard Leblanc, who now expects revenue for the year to fall from $20 million to $8.5 million. 

“There’s no Air Canada activity and no Porter activity,” said Leblanc, “Sunwing and Air Transat, with their southern destinations, ceased all activities in the mid-March timeframe.”

As a result, Moncton took a hit at what should have been its busiest time. 

Normally, March and April combined would bring some 140-thousand passengers through the doors — most of them looking for holiday sun. 

Instead, Leblanc says the only service is WestJet, which comes five times a week from Toronto. 

The only way to reach New Brunswick by Air Canada, is to catch the one daily flight to Fredericton, where airport CEO Johanne Gallant says passenger traffic has fallen by 70 per cent. 

Meanwhile, she says she’s dealing with high fixed costs, such as runway maintenance, which has to be done to the same standard whether one plane is landing or ten. 

In Saint John, those fixed costs are running at least $400,000 per month, even though its arrivals and departures board is empty.  

CEO Derrick Stanford says no commercial flights means a projected $1.5 million surplus will probably turn into a $1.5 million deficit.  

“Seventy per cent of the airport’s revenues come from what’s called aeronautical revenues,” said Stanford.

The only way to reach New Brunswick by Air Canada is to catch the one daily flight to the Fredericton International Airport. (Fredericton International Airport)

“That’s passenger spending, whether it’s in the parking lot or the restaurant or the gift store, or what’s called passenger facility fees, which are part of every plane ticket that is sold.”

“So to have no passengers, pretty much equates to a minimum of at least a 70 per cent drop in revenues.”

Radio silence

Charter airline pilot Peter Sonnenberg says it’s unnerving to be in the cockpit and not hear pilot chatter. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever flown in this region and heard so little traffic on the radio and I’ve flown in this region my entire life,” said Sonnenberg in a call from Grand Manan. 

In more normal times, he says some of the demand to charter his Cessnas and Pipers would come from politicians and business executives who need to get to remote locations and don’t have time to spare. 

Peter Sonnenberg, CEO Atlantic Charters on Grand Manan, inside the cockpit of a plane with first officer Diana Dragomir, left. (Submitted by Peter Sonnenberg)

He says that’s not happening these days. Instead, he says he’s only taking off for medical calls, when patients need to get to hospitals on the mainland. 

Medavie says New Brunswick patients still need to be transported by air ambulance, although the cancellation of elective procedures has reduced demand. 

Still, between March 16 and April 25, there were 25 air transfers. 

It’s another reason why airports like Saint John have to stay open. 

No pillows, no blankets, no snacks, no bar

Audrey Gillespie says travelling by air these days feels different and sad. 

As an assistant supervisor for house-keeping and sanitization at a gold mine work camp in Nunavut, she’s an essential worker. 

Every month, she makes the epic journey from Fredericton to Meadowbank, via Montreal, Val d’Or, and Churchill, Man.

“The airports are empty,”she said. 

“You get on the plane and nobody sits beside each other. I think there were 11 people on the plane when I flew the last time.” 

Every month Audrey Gillespie travels from Fredericton to Meadowbank in Nunuvut via Montreal, Val d’Or, and Churchill, Man. for work. (Submitted by Audrey Gillespie)

“The flight attendant doesn’t come down the aisle with drinks or snacks or anything.”

“And a lot of flights are cancelled. You’re at work and your co-worker says ‘Is your flight still going?’ So you’re constantly checking that your flight hasn’t been cancelled, too.” 

“There’s a lot to it, and it’s very scary and when you get home, everything’s closed.”

Gillespie says when she gets home to Fredericton, she has to self-isolate, which means no visits to her son across the street, no hugs for her grandson. 

“You just have to respect the rules,” she said. 

She must also take her own mask or cloth face-covering and wear it in the airport and for the duration of her flights. 

When will traffic come back?

Airports across Canada are being cautioned to expect a slow recovery.

“I think most experts think the industry won’t get to pre-COVID levels before the end of 2021 so I think we’re looking at 2022,” said Angela Gittens from her home office in Montreal.

Angela Gittens, director general of Airports Council International, whose Canadian division represents the local airport authorities in Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John.  (Submitted by Airports Council International)

Gittens is the director general for Airports Council International, whose Canadian division represents the local airport authorities in Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John. 

“A lot will depend on how long the virus will last, how long the various restrictions will last and then how long, and how deep the recession will be,” said Gittens. 

“This is one of the reasons that we have asked governments to consider relief for airports, for airlines, and the entire aviation ecosystem.”

No plans to close N.B. airports

New Brunswick’s three airport authorities did apply to Ottawa for wage subsidies under the COVID–19 response program that ends in June.

All three CEOs said they’re also looking for ways to defer some capital spending — some projects can be suspended temporarily or scaled back. 

There’s no talk of closing any one airport. All three say they can survive until the end of the year. 

“The airport does have money in the bank and cash reserves for an emergency,” said Saint John’s Derrick Stanford. 

“We can weather the storm for several months but if we’re still having this conversation at Christmas time, I would say we’re looking at a dire situation, and we’d need some injection of money to remain viable.”