The COVID-19 crisis’ impact on the airline industry has been drastic, especially in northwest British Columbia. The Northwest Regional Airport reported 2,005 passengers in April 2020, compared to 23,648 the same month last year, a drop of more than 90 per cent.
“We can hope, there’s only one way to go and that’s up,” said Carman Hendry, airport manager.
It is the only airport in the region still operating commercial flights, but not frequently. Air Canada and WestJet operate four flights to Vancouver a week each. Central Mountain Air has suspended all scheduled flights until June 8, but offers charter flights. Last year, the Northwest Regional Airport facilitated nearly 300,000 passengers. Hendry said that in the past 30 years the airport has not seen numbers fall below 84,000 passengers in a year.
Air Canada has listed one flight per day from Vancouver to Prince Rupert starting on June 22, which could shift some passengers using the Northwest Regional Airport to the Prince Rupert Airport. WestJet has no scheduled changes to their current service to northwest B.C. through June.
Hendry thinks that the numbers in May could be in the range of 2,500 or 3,000 passengers. “There are a little more travellers coming in but not many,” said Hendry. “Hopefully this is the bottom, it is such a turbulent time it’s very difficult to even estimate on what’s happening.”
The first two months of 2020 saw more passengers than Jan. and Feb. 2019, but as the COVID-19 crisis accelerated in Canada, air travel slowed. International flights were cancelled and businesses closed. The federal government discouraged non-essential travel and banned those with symptoms of COVID-19 from flying. Starting on April 17, passengers in Canada were required to have a non-medical mask or face covering. The airport asks that all non-passengers do not enter the terminal building.
READ MORE: Airport passenger numbers plummet in March
When the airport first started losing flights in March, it laid off two employees. The rest of the staff have been able to keep working but with a 20 per cent reduction in hours and salary.
“The employees have been extremely cooperative helping the airport stretch its dollar,” Hendry said. “I think our airport staff have grown closer.”
The airport is using its reserve funds to pay employees. It applied for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program the day after applications opened on April 27, but have not received the subsidy or communication from the government or Canada Revenue Agency. Hendry said other airports were in a similar situation.
The program is designed to help businesses and charities impacted by COVID-19 by subsidizing employee wages by 75% for up to 12 weeks.
According to the Government of Canada website, “This wage subsidy will enable you to re-hire workers previously laid off as a result of COVID-19, help prevent further job losses, and better position you to resume normal operations following the crisis.”
To be eligible, businesses must experience a drop in revenue of at least 30 per cent compared to the same month last year, or the same reduction from the average of its revenues from Jan. and Feb. of 2020. Public institutions cannot apply for the subsidy.
Black Press Media contacted the Canada Revenue Agency for comment but did not receive a reply by deadline.