New Brunswick’s Airports Prepare For Landing As Virus Takes Toll
We are in the midst of a global health and economic crisis, the scale of which grows by the day. Through these past weeks, and in those to come, it is oddly comforting to know that each person, each business and each sector around the world is sharing this experience. It is a common thread that ties us all together as we face the months ahead and the many challenges we have yet to endure.
Airports across the country are facing extraordinary and unprecedented challenges related to COVID-19, and New Brunswick is not immune.
As community partners, New Brunswick’s airports are on the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19. Our teams are working with airlines and the government agencies managing the health crisis and Canada’s border to bring people home while adding measures to help stop the virus from spreading further. The COVID-19 crisis is having a profound impact on our operations, the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
We’d like to take this opportunity to give you an update on how things look, from our perspective.
Since January, we have been working to ensure the health and safety of our employees, airport communities and the travellers we serve, as well as to respond to the evolving needs of the aviation industry – all while factoring in the latest developments in this constantly changing situation.
Now, as we safely welcome the last New Brunswickers home, we have begun looking ahead to assess what we’ll need in order to remain operating through the weeks and months to come.
COVID-19 has had a steep and sudden impact: borders have closed, flights are grounded and cargo has slowed. Passenger traffic has all but disappeared, and we don’t know when it will come back.
Our most conservative projections of only a week ago are now outdated as new information becomes available. The most recent analysis suggests that Canada’s airports now face a total potential loss of $2.2 billion this year with NB airports facing upwards of $16 million in operating loses from the impact of COVID.
We’re concerned about revenues, particularly because we must maintain the same high standard of safe, secure operations on drastically reduced income. Many of our operational costs related to safety and services are fixed and cannot be reduced in proportion to reduced traffic volumes. Add to that new costs related to the increased protocols aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 in terminals across the country.
At the same time, we’re moving quickly to stem controllable spending and reduce operating costs as much as possible to respond to this unprecedented challenge. Our airports have deferred or cancelled over $13 million in capital projects and significantly reduced operating budgets for 2020.
As government has moved quickly to introduce measures to help stabilize the economy during this challenging period, we’ve been relieved to see the Minister of Finance and Prime Minister acknowledge the need to address the long-term viability and resiliency of Canada’s aviation sector.
Monday’s announcement that Ottawa will waive ground lease rents for airports until the end of 2020 was a welcome development that will help many, including New Brunswick’s Greater Moncton International Airport. While it might not impact us all, it does signal the federal government is listening and committed to doing what it can to help.
We have added our voices to the Canadian Airport Council’s call for short-term financial relief to address immediate cash flow challenges and ensure that we can continue to operate and recover from this crisis – and we join airports across the country in expressing our deep appreciation for the work of the Minister of Transport, his officials and his department as Canada deals with this unprecedented threat.
There is some good news though, we’re beginning to see early signs of recovery in countries first hit by this novel virus. If this holds, it may be a positive sign for others currently at the peak of their battles.
We’re inspired by recent announcements coming from universities and others that confirm medical research into diagnostics and vaccines is underway, and we’re buoyed by reports of business leaders channeling their energies and resources toward helping the health-care system to respond and our communities (and economies) to rebound.
More than anything, we’re heartened by the compassion and resilience of New Brunswickers who’ve responded to this crisis with courage, grace and kindness.
As leaders, we’ve never faced such challenging circumstances. But we’re determined to see our organizations through this unparalleled trial, until our friends and neighbours are ready to travel and experience all that the world has to offer once again.
We’ll be ready for you, when that time comes.
Derrick Stanford President and CEO, Saint John Airport
Bernard LeBlanc President and CEO, Greater Moncton International Airport
Johanne Gallant President and CEO, Fredericton International Airport