It’ll likely be three years before Edmonton International Airport fully recovers economically from COVID-19. CEO Tom Ruth recently met with city council’s COVID recovery task force, and laid out a four-point plan to get things back to normal.
A motion to have Mayor Don Iveson write the provincial and federal governments to assist with the recovery will be up for debate in early July after it was introduced this week.
EIA is asking that the province put its debt for capital projects on hold for 18 months, that the federal government waive fees for three years, that overseas flights resume as soon as possible and that promotional work resume to assist the local hospitality industry.
Ruth told Global News the recovery at the airport has turned the corner. Passenger traffic was down 95 per cent in May from normal levels. It’s now down 90 per cent.
To help cover, they’ve reduced capital spending from what was supposed to be $100 million, down to $20 million. The operations budget was cut by $50 million and that included layoffs of 40 per cent of staff.
The airport is responsible, Ruth said, for 29,000 direct and indirect jobs in Metro Edmonton, with a $3.2-billion economic impact in normal times.
“So differing the loans, maybe for 18 months or so, which will be a big, big help for the recovery,” he said. “We want to make sure we have financial strength that when things recover, we’ll be able to do a lot of the capital projects that we need to do to create jobs and will help our airport grow.”
The rental fee the feds charge is something Ruth said all airports are hoping can be dropped for the foreseeable future.
“That was waived this year and all of the airports in Canada would like to see the federal government wave that for three years ahead. In our case, under a normal year, that’s a $20-million payment to the federal government.”
In March, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau limited international travel to Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver airports. It was a restriction that was supposed to end June 30.
“That restriction is still in place,” Ruth said. “It doesn’t look like it’s going to be ending June 30. It’s a real issue for us. We’re the fifth-largest airport in Canada. We have international carriers that would love to fly back into Edmonton and we think it’s important to work with Transport Canada and other authorities federally to get that restriction lifted.”
He said airlines like KLM, Condor, Iceland Air and WestJet — with its summer London service — are wanting to resume service.
The one silver lining in EIA’s business is on the cargo side of things. Ruth credits “blessings” in geography and infrastructure as helping Edmonton’s business case.
He’s pointing to the deep sea port in Prince Rupert that allows ships to cut their travel time from Asia by a day-and-a-half. Edmonton by rail is the closest major city, so EIA has been able to build the warehouse infrastructure to transfer cargo to its next destination, either by air or by truck, as the QEII Highway has access all the way into Mexico.
Cargo handling is up 58 per cent, and Ruth said Edmonton is gaining prominence as the largest cargo handling airport in Canada.
Ruth is optimistic that slowly things are rebounding in the recovery phase.
“We’re seeing a lot of flights being loaded in our system from the major carriers, particularly Air Canada and WestJet in our July schedule. So that is encouraging that those flights are being loaded in. This is going to be along recovery but if it’s a steady recovery, we’ll be able to help during the entire process.”
The final portion of Iveson’s motion for the July 6 council meeting calls for “shovel-ready projects” so EIA can expand its air cargo facilities, and have the province work on expansion of the interchange at 65 Avenue SW.
In October, EIA penned a deal to work with Drone Delivery Canada to create the first “airport drone delivery hub” using Edmonton airspace to build flight routes.