Winnipeg’s airport has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and it’s likely going to take several years to recover.
The Winnipeg Airports Authority (WAA) is projecting a $45-million deficit this year, according to data from its 2019 annual report released on Wednesday.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re the hotel across the street or the airport, you’re feeling a little hit by a truck,” said WAA president and CEO Barry Rempel.
Throughout the course of the pandemic, Winnipeg’s airport saw as few as 56 passengers a day, which is down significantly from the daily average of 13,000.
As passenger traffic plummeted, operating costs remained fixed at roughly 85 per cent, according to the WAA.
Rempel said the future remains uncertain as it’s difficult to predict if business travel will return.
“Business travel is what sustains the airport,” Rempel said.
“A business traveller may take 12, 13 trips a year, whereas that same traveller is only going to take one vacation trip.”
To mitigate the financial impacts of the pandemic, WAA reduced its energy consumption, closed off select areas of the terminal, paused capital projects and cancelled contracts.
Rempel believes it could take about five years before travel numbers return to pre-pandemic levels.
In the meantime, he’s asking the federal government for help.
“The most basic of things that we need to do is we need to eliminate airport rent, at least until we’ve built back the cash reserves that we had prior to the pandemic,” Rempel said.
“That, combined with some loosening of travel restrictions, would go a long way to making us sustainable.”
Without government support, the WAA said Canada’s travel sector will fall behind the rest of the world.
Transport Canada tells Global News it has waived ground lease rents from March-December 2020 for the 21 airport authorities that pay rent to the federal government.
It is also urging airports to use the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which has been extended until December 19, to keep employees working.