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‘Ghost town’ airports feeling the pinch as passenger traffic plummets

The "arrivals" display at Regina International Airport shows multiple cancelled flights on April 10, 2020.
The "arrivals" display at Regina International Airport shows multiple cancelled flights on April 10, 2020. Derek Putz / Global News

Airports in Saskatchewan and beyond are feeling the financial pinch and asking for government help as the COVID-19 pandemic sends air passenger traffic into a steep descent.

“The passenger side, though, has essentially imploded,” said Regina Airport Authority (RAA) CEO James Bogusz, “so it’s a complete ghost town here at YQR.

“Looking at this week, we have passenger counts of around 15 or 20 people for the entire day. Typically we’d see 3,300-3,500.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: WestJet to rehire nearly 6,400 workers through federal wage subsidy

The Regina Airport Authority is serviced on the ground by Air Canada Ground Handling Services and Airport Terminal Services (ATS), among others. Both organizations have had to at least temporarily lay off employees in Canada.
The Regina Airport Authority is serviced on the ground by Air Canada Ground Handling Services and Airport Terminal Services (ATS), among others. Both organizations have had to at least temporarily lay off employees in Canada. Derek Putz / Global News

Bogusz says the Canadian Airports Council is working with the federal government to find ways to support Canadian airports during the health crisis, while locally his team works to find ways to reduce the RAA’s operating costs. He says those run at around $17 million to $18 million annually.

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Thus far, the federal government has announced 10 months of rent relief for a number of Canadian airport authorities.

Bogusz says the RAA has already had to lay off 18 of its 51 full-time staff members, a decision he says was made as the airport “understands its role” in the battle against the pervasive disease.

“The primary reason why we’re here is to help planes land and depart and do the services related to those has really come to almost a halt,” he explained.

Regina Airport Authority CEO James Bogusz said there will be ten days in April on which Air Canada will not operate at all at the facility.
Regina Airport Authority CEO James Bogusz said there will be ten days in April on which Air Canada will not operate at all at the facility. Derek Putz / Global News

He says many other businesses and vendors at the airport have also had to cease or draw back operations, as passenger airlines reduce the number of flights they operate.

Bugusz says “critical cargo” traffic still frequents the facility.

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He said the RAA hopes to be able to rehire all of the laid-off employees.