A flight arrives at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Airlines demand ‘concrete plan’ for financial aid after throne speech hints at relief

Canadian airline revenues in 2020 will fall by $14.6 billion or 43 per cent from last year

Canada’s flight industry is tentatively taking heart in signals from the throne speech that financial help is on the way but wants to see quick, clear action to support the sector, which has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government’s speech from the throne Wednesday pledged “further support for industries that have been the hardest hit, including travel and tourism.”

The National Airlines Council of Canada acknowledged the commitment, but president Mike McNaney said federal authorities need to “immediately make a concrete plan… to support the sector.”

“We can’t keep waiting,” he said in a phone interview. “All of our G7 trading partners all have brought forward sectoral support… We have not.”

Passenger numbers are down 94 per cent from 2019, with aviation still at “Stage 0 in its recovery” amid ongoing travel restrictions, said the group in a release. The council represents Air Canada, WestJet Airlines Ltd., Air Transat and Jazz Aviation.

Between the three largest airlines, more than 27,000 employees have been laid off since March. Nav Canada, which runs the country’s air navigation system, announced earlier this week it has cut 720 jobs or 14 per cent of its workforce due to the plunge in global air traffic.

Canadian airline revenues in 2020 will fall by $14.6 billion or 43 per cent from last year, according to estimates in May from the International Air Transport Association.

“The financial situation is much worse now than it was in the spring, as airports continue to pile up costs and debt to provide enhanced safety and health measures on limited revenues,” Canadian Airports Council president Daniel-Robert Gooch said in a statement.

“The speech from the throne offered some hope in recognizing particularly hard hit sectors, including aviation, but time is of the essence: without action, the damage done to airports and the communities they serve may take years to repair.”

Unlike countries including France, Germany and the United States, Canada has steered clear of sector-specific support for carriers, instead rolling out financial aid available to many industries, such as wage subsidies and loans starting at $60 million for large firms.

Ottawa has also held off on requiring airlines to refund customers whose flights were cancelled due to the pandemic, potentially saving carriers hundreds of millions of dollars. In contrast, European and U.S. authorities have demanded airlines reimburse travellers, on top of the strings attached to financial lifelines that range from limiting dividends and executive bonuses to cutting carbon emissions and carving out ownership stakes for government.

The Liberals pledged in the throne speech “to support regional routes for airlines” as part of its efforts to connect communities. That comes after after Air Canada announced in June it would suspend service on 30 regional routes and close eight stations at smaller Canadian airports.

“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been holding our breath for six months,” said John McKenna, president of the Air Transportation Association of Canada, which counts 30 smaller carriers as members.

“I’d like to see words turn into action. And significant action — not just for show.”

The broader travel and tourism industry found more encouragement in the throne speech, which outlines the government’s priorities for the new session of Parliament.

The Tourism Industry Association of Canada said it was “thrilled” that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had circled the sector as a priority in the wake of hundreds of thousands of layoffs across the country.

“In fact, travel and tourism was among the only industries directly mentioned in the speech as a sector in need of further support,” the association said in statement.

There were 463,500 fewer tourism sector jobs in September than the same month a year earlier, marking a drop of roughly 25 per cent from pre-pandemic levels, Tourism HR Canada said.

Other new measures applicable to all industries include the extension of the federal wage subsidy through the summer of 2021 and enhancements to the Canada Emergency Business Account and the Business Credit Availability Program.

Transat spokesman Christophe Hennebelle said the extension comes as a “welcome support, but it primarily benefits the employees.”

The billions of dollars in aid to airlines in the U.S. and Europe are “out of all proportion” compared with the lack of support in Canada, he said in an email, with more “significant” steps needed from Ottawa.

Suzanne Benoit, CEO of Aero Montreal, which represents Quebec’s aerospace cluster, called the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy “excellent” in the short term but said the Liberal government should be “more specific” with how it will steady industry turbulence.

McKenna is asking Transport Canada to ramp up coronavirus testing in airports as a replacement for 14-day quarantine requirements for returning residents.

He is also demanding Ottawa postpone regulations slated to come into effect in mid-December that lower pilots’ maximum working hours per day, a move that aims to boost safety but will also raise labour costs by necessitating new hires, McKenna said.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Airlines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares to swab a man at a walk-in COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal North, Sunday, May 10, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)
Interior Health records 21 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend

Thirty-six cases remain active; two people are in the hospital, one of whom is in intensive care

Advance voting has now started in polling places throughout the Fraser-Nicola riding. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Advance voting now open in Fraser-Nicola

Advance voting runs from Oct. 15 to Oct. 21 in B.C.’s election

Honour House Society founder and President Allan De Genova (l) and Robert Parkinson, Health and Wellness Director, Ambulance Paramedics of BC and Director, Honour House Society, at the opening of Honour Ranch near Ashcroft, Oct. 5, 2019. Photo credit: Barbara Roden
Honour Ranch makes use of ‘down time’ to complete essential work

Unable to run programs because of COVID-19, volunteers made the site ready for year-round use

Historic Ashcroft sign, date unknown. (Photo credit: Wendy Coomber)
Restaurant patio licences extended in Ashcroft for another year

Council decision enables establishments to keep outdoor patios through October 2021

Seventh-Day Adventist Church Pastor Charles Lomudak (l) with Daniel Collett and Marina Papais (r of sign), Gary Dost (third from r), Gwen and Katie Henderson (4th and 5th from r), and congregants with the church’s new sign. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
New mosaic at Ashcroft church labour of love for congregants

Seventh-Day Adventist Church worked with local artists to design, create new sign

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry answers questions during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. sees record-breaking daily COVID infections with 499 new cases over weekend

Two people, both in the Lower Mainland, died due to the virus over the weekend

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Kootenay couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Most Read