Op-Ed: “Canada’s aviation sector needs a plan”

Canada’s aviation sector has been on the front lines of this pandemic since the very beginning. With the effects of the virus still very much unknown, airline workers stepped up to the challenge and focused on repatriating Canadians from abroad and delivering PPE. If the planes were not carrying the 10,673 Canadians home from abroad, they were transporting face masks and medical equipment to Canada from around the globe. However, in the months following the start of the pandemic, flight attendants and baggage handlers were furloughed, pilots struggled to get flight hours, passengers’ flights were cancelled, air traffic controllers were laid off, and service jobs in airports became virtually non-existent.
International arrivals inside the Vancouver International Airport, pictured July 20, 2019. COVID-19 has been devastating for aviation in Canada and around the world.

COVID-19 has been devastating for aviation in Canada and around the world. Since the pandemic hit eight months ago, we have seen Canada’s largest airlines face catastrophic financial losses and cut dozens of routes across Canada. The sector continues to suffer from a lack of passenger demand largely due to current travel restrictions and advisories, with no immediate end in sight. The devastation to the industry is not only impacting the aviation workers but will lead to severe consequences for Canada’s economy.

Canadians are unfortunately no longer as interconnected as they once were before the pandemic. Due to a drastic decrease in revenues, Air Canada was forced to suspend 30 regional routes, and WestJet made the difficult decision to stop servicing Atlantic Canada altogether. Regional airports are large economic proponents for small communities, generating 25,000 indirect jobs nationwide. Small communities rely on these regional routes, as they need to receive and transport essential goods and services. Regional service is also directly linked to international service, as it is a proponent of tourism beyond major cities. Our carriers have been working hard for years to build regional networks across the country, connecting small communities to larger hubs. Unfortunately, restoring these regional routes is not an easy fix and could have a lasting impact on transportation in Canada.

Canadian airlines are also struggling to compete internationally. In October 2020, the main carriers in the United States were operating at approximately 50 per cent of their typical capacity whereas Canada’s airlines are only operating at approximately 25 per cent. As a result, there are substantial concerns about our airlines remaining competitive. Concerns around competitiveness are not just with the United States. In October of 2019, Canadian airline carriers held an approximate 64 per cent capacity share of transatlantic service while European carriers held 36 per cent, and by October 2020, Canadian and European carriers each held 50 per cent. Canadian carriers are forced to compete with foreign carriers who have received substantial government support. These foreign carriers will ultimately be better equipped to increase their levels of service, increase flight frequency and secure additional market shares. This is also something that is not easy to be regained by our airlines.
The aviation sector has been calling on the government for months to develop a plan, but the government continues to keep us waiting, writes Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie.

A failing aviation sector will inevitably have a detrimental effect on Canada’s overall economy. While air cargo may only account for one per cent of Canada’s international trade by volume, it can represent as much as 25 per cent of exports outside of the United States by value. It is clear that air transportation is critical for international trade. Travel restrictions from COVID-19 are expected to result in drastic decreases to Canada’s GDP by up to 1.7 per cent. We can also expect to see permanent job losses of up to 500,000 people, almost three per cent of total employment in the sector in 2019. Unfortunately, the longer travel restrictions are in place, the slower the economic recovery will be for the aviation sector.

The aviation sector has been calling on the government for months to develop a plan, but the government continues to keep us waiting. Our aviation workers were there for us since the beginning of this pandemic, and now it is our turn to assure them that they will have a viable aviation sector to return to when the fight against COVID-19 is behind us. Our airlines and airports needed to see federal action months ago and as a result of this delay our aviation sector and economy will face lasting impacts