As COVID-19 regulations have caused an indefinite travel slowdown at all airports, the city’s local air travel centre says it’s been trying its best to ride out the rough turbulence.
“As far as the effect it’s had on our budget, that’s where we collect our money — through passenger movement, terminal fees and passenger facility fees and so on,” said Lethbridge Airport manager Lawrence Canning.
“So, you can imagine it’s had quite a negative effect on the operational budget.”
Canning says they saw an 80 per cent drop in passenger movement in 2020 compared to 2019.
Last spring, Air Canada pulled out of more than 20 small- to medium-sized markets across the country and West Jet has significantly scaled back its flights, now only operating four to six times a week in Lethbridge.
Canning says since the airport was already pretty slim when it comes to its staffing, it hasn’t had to lay anyone off due to the pandemic.
It could also be a while before commercial air travel returns to its normal pace.
“The industry itself has said they don’t expect to return to 2019 levels until 2023 or 2024,” said Trevor Lewington, the CEO of Economic Development Lethbridge.
“So, this is not a short-term fix, this is a multi-year fix.”
Despite the dip in passenger traffic, Lewington says the airport has several reasons to be optimistic about the future due to its multi-purpose use.
“You have to remember the Lethbridge Airport has served as a staging ground for fighting forest fires in the mountains for Alberta Agricultural Forestry,” he explained.
“The military has used the Lethbridge airport as a staging ground,” Lewington added.
He also says the movement of goods at the airport may even be arguably more important than the movement of people.
“We have a real opportunity to develop Lethbridge into a hub for distribution and logistics,” Lewington stated.
The airport will also be moving ahead with nearly $20 million worth of planned structural and technical upgrades as the city sees it as an important long-term investment.
“While we’re having some hopefully short-term pain right now, we’re positioning ourselves to be very viable and in a strong position for airline traffic in the future,” Canning said.
“So, it’s a good time to be doing all these projects.”
Canning adds construction on the modernization renovations should be starting in the coming weeks, but will take one to two years to complete.