Maritime airports say they need help from Ottawa to survive
SAINT JOHN, N.B. -- Some of the airports that serve the Maritime region may not survive the pandemic.
Passenger traffic on the East Coast is down more than 90 per cent compared to last year, and airports are losing millions of dollars in revenue because of that.
It may appear deserted, but the Saint John Airport remains open, though, at a fraction of capacity.
"We're operating at about five per cent of where we were a year ago," said Derrick Stanford, the airport's president.
There's a similar situation at airports all over the Maritimes -- facilities that have to keep the lights on, despite the drop in passenger traffic.
"There's only so much cutting you can do in an airport situation because of the massive fixed costs in running the place," said Stanford.
The same is true at the region's largest airport, where passenger numbers are down about 90 per cent.
"Obviously that isn't sustainable," said Leah Batstone, a spokesperson for the Halifax Stanfield International Airport. "We've been seeing aviation in numerous sectors, whether it's airlines or support jobs, so it's having a significant impact."
Airports all over Atlantic Canada have laid off staff and cut costs as much as they can, but as a group, they will still lose about $76 million this year. And with no end in sight to the pandemic, there's no end in sight to the losses either.
The prime minister signaled Wednesday night that Ottawa will keep spending on pandemic recovery. Airports say they need that lifeline.
"I would say assistance on capital projects, low-interest loans, or grants for projects," said Stanford. "The permanent waiving of rent would be handy."
Some in the travel industry say they have confidence in the resilience of local airports.
"The viability of airports in Saint John, Moncton, Fredericton, Charlottetown, they will do the necessary things to remain viable from a business perspective and in operations, passengers will start coming back to the airports," said Gary Howard of CAA Atlantic.
But until then, the airport association says, without federal assistance, there is a real possibility of some airports closing permanently.