Aeroports de Montreal steps up efforts to maintain operations

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With Aéroports de Montréal (ADM) reporting that the number of passengers handled at YUL Montréal-Trudeau International Airport continues to plummet, the airport operator has had to implement new exceptional measures to ensure the continuation of its operations.

The YUL and YMX International Aerocity of Mirabel airport sites provide essential services to the communities they serve. As such, ADM must continue to provide safe and secure facilities for those who need to travel and facilitate the movement of goods and merchandise.

In 2020, ADM estimates that it will have a shortfall of $300 million. The recently announced new restrictions, the emergence of variants of COVID-19, and the extended border closure, will continue to put significant pressure on the financial performance of ADM in 2021. In response to the ongoing uncertainty and lack of revenue, ADM has implemented an increase in airport improvement fees (AIF) charged to departing passengers from YUL, similar to other Canadian airport authorities. The AIF, used exclusively to fund infrastructure projects essential to maintaining safe operations at YUL, was increased from $30 to $35 on 1 February.

In addition, aeronautical fees at the airport have been increased by 2.5% and landing charges for all-cargo flights as well as a minimum landing charge for all flights at YUL will be increased from 1 April. An AIF-equivalent fee of $10 per seat will also be charged for all non-terminal flights and general aviation at YUL, effective on the same date.

“The airline industry has been hit hard by the drop in the number of flights since March 2020,” said Philippe Rainville, President and CEO of ADM Aéroports de Montréal. “Although a major budget rationalisation exercise has reduced ADM’s operating expenses and capital budget for the coming years to a strict minimum, it is clear that stronger measures were needed to provide us with the flexibility to continue operating our airport sites,” he added.

“ADM is at a crossroads, although we still believe in the resilience of our industry. In the short term, we must ensure our survival for a period that is still difficult to determine. In addition, we need to ensure that we maintain the integrity of our assets while trying to obtain the necessary assistance to move forward with the construction of the REM station, which will benefit the entire community. While these rate increases will help us, they are far from sufficient. When the time comes, we will have to train the hundreds of employees we had to let go at the beginning of the crisis to ensure adequate service when the recovery comes. We know that governments recognise the drastic impact that the pandemic is having on our industry, and we continue to hope that assistance programmes will be announced shortly,” he concluded.

WestJet slashes capacity with knock-on effect on domestic hubs

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Following the Canadian government’s decision to introduce inbound testing and the continuation of the 14-day quarantine, WestJet has noted significant reductions in new bookings and unprecedented cancellations on flights. Subsequently the airline has made further cuts to its schedule as it continues to face volatile demand and instability in the face of continuing federal government travel advisories and restrictions.

Cuts to the airline’s schedule include the elimination of more than 230 weekly departures (including 160 domestic) and the removal of more than 30% of capacity versus prior months. It will also include the suspension of 11 routes (Edmonton-Cancun, Edmonton-Puerto Vallarta, Edmonton-Phoenix, Vancouver-Cancun, Vancouver-Phoenix, Vancouver-Puerto Vallerta, Vancouver-Cabo, Vancouver-Los Angeles, Vancouver-Palm Springs, Calgary-Las Vegas, Calgary-Orlando).

Around 1,000 employees across the WestJet Group will also be impacted through a combination of furloughs, temporary layoffs, unpaid leave and reduced hours. There will also be a hiring freeze implemented.

“The entire travel industry and its customers are again on the receiving end of incoherent and inconsistent government policy,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO in response to the government’s new testing regime. “We have advocated over the past 10 months for a coordinated testing regime on Canadian soil, but this hasty new measure is causing Canadian travellers unnecessary stress and confusion and may make travel unaffordable, unfeasible and inaccessible for Canadians for years to come,” Sims continued.

“Regrettably, this new policy leaves us with no other option but to again place a large number of our employees on leave, while impacting the pay of others,” he added.

The airline plans to remove approximately 30% of its currently planned February and March capacity from the schedule, a more than 80% reduction year on year. In addition, the airline will reduce domestic frequencies by 160 departures as frequently evolving advisories, travel restrictions and guidance continue to negatively impact demand trends.

Negative COVID-19 tests required for all passengers travelling to Canada

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Following the rise in COVID-19 cases around the globe Canada’s Minister of Transport, the Honourable Marc Garneau, has mandated that from 7 January all air passengers five years or older will be required to test negative for COVID-19 before travelling from another country to Canada.

The Canadian government has already implemented multiple measures to protect the health and safety of its citizens and to help prevent air travel from being a source of further introduction and spread of COVID-19 as well as new variants of the virus into Canada.

Passengers must present a negative laboratory test result to the airline prior to boarding a flight to Canada. The test must be performed using a COVID-19 molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and must be taken within 72 hours prior to a passenger’s scheduled departure to Canada. Those authorised to enter Canada must still complete a mandatory 14-day quarantine even with a negative test result.

“Our government remains committed to protecting the health and safety of Canadians. These new measures will provide another layer of protection for Canadians as we continue to assess public health risks and work to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Canada,” said Garneau.

Meanwhile the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness underlined that, “The new testing requirement is an additional layer of protection that helps make Canada’s border measures among the strongest in the world.”

Whitehorse Airport in Yukon

Canada and Yukon support essential air access to remote communities

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Whitehorse Airport in Yukon

With the global pandemic continuing to have a significant impact on remote communities that depend on small air carriers, the Government of Canada is partnering with the Government of Yukon to support essential air access to remote communities. There are 28 communities with airports or aerodromes in Yukon that are considered remote.

Canada’s Minister of Transport, the Honourable Marc Garneau, said:“While we continue to work together to limit the spread of COVID-19, we must also ensure remote communities continue to have the air connectivity they need for essential goods and services, travel and business. Our agreement with the Government of Yukon will allow for reliable air services to keep communities in the Yukon connected to the rest of the country.”

As part of the agreement the Canadian Government is contributing up to $7 million to ensure continuity of service for at least six months and up to 18 months if necessary. The Government of Yukon is also extending fee waivers totalling up to $234,000 through to the end of March 2021. Under the agreement the minimum levels of essential services to remote communities will be determined by the Government of Yukon. It will then allocate funding to air operators to ensure the continued supply of food, medical supplies, and other essential goods and services to these communities.

The Honourable Richard Mostyn, Minister of Highways and Public Affairs for the Government of Yukon, added, “Aviation is critical to our modern northern lifestyle, and our government is working with our federal partners to support Yukon’s aviation industry to keep our communities connected. Throughout the pandemic, Yukon’s air carriers have ensured the transport of essential goods, medical supplies and health care workers to and from the territory. This funding will ensure they can continue to provide services that Yukoners rely on.”

Suspension of WestJet services impacts Canadian airports

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Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet is indefinitely suspending operations from Moncton, Fredericton, Sydney and Charlottetown, while also reducing services to Halifax and St. John’s from the beginning of November.  A return to service date is unknown.

More than 100 weekly flights, the equivalent of almost 80% seat capacity from the Atlantic region will be eliminated as a result of the announcement.

“It has become unviable to serve these markets and these decisions were regrettably inevitable as demand is being obliterated by the Atlantic bubble and third-party fee increases,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO.

He added that since the beginning of the pandemic the airline has worked keep essential air service to all its domestic airports. “But we are out of runway and have been forced to suspend service in the region without sector-specific support.”

Up until this announcement WestJet was the only Canadian airline to maintain 100% of its pre-COVID domestic network. Since 2003 the airline has been credited with successfully bringing competition and lower fares to the Atlantic region, and subsequently driving tourism and business investments. The airline had announced permanent layoffs  to its workforce through its airport transformation and contact centre consolidation back in June. Further layoffs are expected at Fredericton, Moncton, Sydney and Charlottetown when services are suspended in November.

“We understand this is devastating news to the communities, our airport partners and the WestJetters who rely on our airline, but these suspensions were unavoidable without the prioritisation of rapid-testing or support for the introduction of a safe Canadian bubble,” added Sims. “We remain committed to the Atlantic region and it is our intent to resume operations as soon as it becomes economically viable to do so.”

Temperature screening on the rise in Canadian airports

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As part of the Candian Government’s plans to continue implementing a multi-layered framework of measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19, the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Marc Garneau, has announced the roll out of temperature screening for travellers at 11 additional Canadian airports.

The Government of Canada unveiled a multi-phased approach to temperature screenings for all passengers travelling to Canada and travellers departing some Canadian airports back in June 2020. As a result temperature screening stations have been in place since the end of July at the four largest airports in the country: Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. Since the end of September, temperature screening is also now being conducted at additional regional hubs, including: St. John’s, Halifax, Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto Billy Bishop, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Kelowna and Victoria. As well as passengers, all employees and personnel entering or working in the restricted areas of these airports are subject to temperature screening procedures by Canadian Air Transport Security Authority personnel.

The Honourable Garneau, commented: “As Minister of Transport, my highest priority is the safety and security of Canadians and the transportation system. Our government has expanded temperature screenings to major airports across the country to support these efforts and as another measure in our multi-layered approach to help protect the safety of the travelling public and air industry workers. The collective efforts of all Canadians have helped us during the pandemic, and will continue to do so as we move forward.”

Moose Jaw Municipal Airport to benefit from strategic investment

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Moose Jaw Municipal Airport in Saskatchewan, Canada, is set to benefit from strategic investments in infrastructure  thanks to government funding.

The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development, the honourable Lori Carr, Saskatchewan Minister of Government Relations; and His Worship Fraser Tolmie, Mayor of the City of Moose Jaw, announced funding for important improvements to the remote regional hub which will benefit the local economy and increase safety.

The rehabilitation and expansion of the existing runway and taxiway will help accommodate larger planes, including business class, turbo props and light jets. The construction of a new apron space will increase the parking area and allow for heavier aircraft to be parked. A new hangar access road will reduce the use of taxiways by vehicle traffic. Improvements also include the installation of additional runway, taxiway and approach lights.

The Government of Saskatchewan is contributing $999,900 in funding to the project, while the Government of Canada is investing $1.2 million in the airport project through its Rural and Northern Communities Infrastructure Scheme (RNIS).

“Canada’s experience under COVID-19 has demonstrated how interdependent Canadians are, as well as our need to stay connected. Connecting Canadians through regional transportation hubs, like the Moose Jaw Airport, brings jobs to rural communities in the region, and will support Canada’s economic recovery, ” said the Honourable Maryam Monsef.

“By investing in projects such as this, we are helping communities across Saskatchewan strengthen their economies and build more resilient infrastructure,” she continued.

Greg Simpson, chair of the Moose Jaw Municipal Airport Authority, added:

The Moose Jaw Municipal Airport Authority team is very excited to see this runway expansion and rehabilitation of the airside facilities project begin to come to fruition. When construction is finished, these upgrades will improve safety and benefit current airport users in the health and agricultural sectors, along with potential new business that rely on general aviation. This will improve access to critical health care services and help support economic development in our community, thanks to improved transportation infrastructure. We are grateful for both the confidence demonstrated, and the financial support provided.”

Canada unveils measures to support air access to remote communities

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The Canadian Government is working with other stakeholders including provincial and territorial governments, indigenous partners and the air industry to address the specific needs of remote communities that rely on small air carriers as the only year-round mode of transportation for essential goods, services and access in and out of the community. There are 140 communities with airports that were considered remote while designing this programme.

New measures include seeking bilateral agreements with provinces and territories to ensure continuity of service for at least six months and establishing a $75 million funding programme for the federal contribution for the six months and maintaining these essential services through an investment of up to $174 million over 18 months if needed.

Additional funding will depend on the needs of communities and the pace of recovery of air travel into remote communities. The funding will help ensure minimal levels of essential transportation services to remote communities, and ensure the continued supply of food, medical supplies, and other essential goods and services. Funding will be allocated to each jurisdiction with remote communities based on historic passenger volumes.

“While we continue to work together to limit the spread of COVID-19, we must also ensure remote communities continue to have the air connectivity they need for essential goods and services, travel and business. Our work with the provinces and territories on these measures will allow for reliable air services to keep remote communities connected to the rest of the country,” said the Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport.

Meanwhile the Honourabel Marc Miller said: “Flights are an essential link for fly-in and remote First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities. This funding will go a long way in ensuring that fly-in communities have the essential services, goods and equipment they need to prevent and respond to any outbreak of COVID-19. Canada will keep working hard to ensure continuity of services.”

Pascan Aviation’s expanded network to benefit regional hubs in Canada

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A leading regional carrier in Quebec, Pascan Aviation is expanding its network. From 17 August, the airline will add Gaspé, Baie-Comeau, and Montreal-Trudeau to its existing network, which already includes daily scheduled flights covering eight airports (St. Hubert, Quebec, Bonaventure, Madeleine Islands, Bagotville, Mont-Joli, Sept-Iles and Fermont-Wabush).

Early morning flights from Fermont-Wabush connecting to Sept-Îles, Quebec and Montreal-Trudeau will also be added.

“Since its inception, Pascan’s mission is to connect the regions to city-centers, but also to connect the regions between themselves,” said Yani Gagnon, Pascan Aviation’s co-owner. “With the expansion of our regional services, we now offer never-equaled connectivity in Eastern Quebec, with connecting possibility for international and interprovincial flights in Montreal-Trudeau and Quebec airports. We want to reassure the population in the regions that we are poised to fill the void left by the withdrawal of Air Canada in the regional market,” he added.

Gagnon’s sentiments were echoed by his co-owner, Julian Roberts, who commented: “Our priority has always been to offer safe and reliable services while responding to the needs of the regions. There are currently a lot of discussions on issues relating to regional air transportation, and we have decided to take immediate actions to ensure a leading role in regional aviation.”

Just a few months ago, Pascan initiated an aircraft fleet changeover process. It can now serve the regional market with turboprop SAAB 340B aircraft, with 34-seat configuration and full on-board services. The carrier is also in the final stages of planning interlining agreements with national and international airlines.

Canadian regional hubs welcome return of services from Central Mountain Air

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Having resumed scheduled services to five British Columbian cities on 7 July, Central Mountain Air (CMA) is now restarting services between three additional Alberta and British Columbia destinations: Fort Nelson (YYE), High Level (YOJ)  and Edmonton (YEG).

“We are very pleased that CMA is working toward restoring scheduled air service to the community of High Level,” said High Level Mayor Crystal McAteer. “CMA has provided a valuable service to our community and been a valued corporate sponsor. The Town recognises the toll that COVID has taken on our businesses and our citizens. We are aware of the affect this virus has had on air carriers and greatly appreciate CMA’s effort to restore our access to this important mode of travel.”