Air travel picks up but regulations continue to act as barriers

Click to play video: 'Halifax airport to take years getting back to pre-pandemic operations'
Halifax airport to take years getting back to pre-pandemic operations
WATCH: For over a year Halifax Stanfield International Airport has operated just as a domestic airport, but that has changed after Halifax welcomed its first international flights last month. That’s expected to change this winter, but it will take years for the airport to get back to pre-pandemic operations. Alicia Draus has more. – Oct 15, 2021

At its peak in 2019, Halifax Stanfield International Airport was welcoming hundreds of flights a day from 46 destinations. When the pandemic hit in 2020, air travel was largely halted — Halifax’s airport was reduced to a domestic airport and at its lowest, it was servicing five or fewer flights a day from just four destinations.

Slowly, things are improving.

READ MORE: Canada-U.S. land border to open for fully vaccinated on Nov. 8: official

“We did see an uptick in July,” said Jocye Carter, chief executive of the Halifax International Airport Authority.

“But in August, September and October, we definitely saw increased numbers. The month of August was the equivalent of January through the end of July.”

Right now, there are about 60 flights going through the airport each day and there are now 15 destinations, including a single international flight, after the airport was approved to resume international service in September.

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“A lot of it’s based on demand,” Carter said.

“A lot of folks thought once you regained international service, then all the flights would just start flying that day.”

Click to play video: 'Family members reunite for 1st time since pandemic began'
Family members reunite for 1st time since pandemic began

That’s not the case, and so far, just one airline is travelling internationally from Halifax to just one location — a Condor flight to Frankfurt.

“We have a lot of Germans who own property in Nova Scotia and many of them have not been here for two years,” Carter said.

The Frankfurt route is seasonal and from September to November flies twice a week. When that stops, though, it won’t be the end to international flights. Several airlines are already selling seats to sunny destinations starting in December.

Among those is WestJet, but vice president Andy Gibbons said bookings have room to grow.

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“The demand environment continues to be uncertain,” Gibbons said.

“We continue to have some barriers to growth that we’re looking to the federal government to address.”

Those barriers include the need for travellers returning to Canada to show a recent PCR test and a federal policy requiring children under 12 to isolate for two weeks upon return — meaning they can’t return to school or daycare right after a vacation.

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“We’re hoping and advocating that those policies evolve,” said Gibbons, who also points out that air travel is becoming safer.

“By the end of the month, we will be a fully vaccinated industry. Everyone who boards a flight will be fully vaccinated. Everyone who enters an airport will be fully vaccinated,” he said.

Gibbons said in the meantime, the airline is also continuing to work on improving domestic service.

The airline noted that this year, Halifax was the weakest link in the network and that’s why there hasn’t been more service in the region. Demand was lower than elsewhere in the country, something Carter said is not surprising, given the province’s strict two-week quarantine requirements.

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“We actually didn’t open up without quarantine to the rest of Canada until the first of July, so if you’re booking your summer holidays by the first, you’ve pretty well made your plans for the summer,” she said.

Gibbons said WestJet remains committed to the region and it is actively working to bring back its service in the region with the goal of getting as close to 2019 levels as it can next summer.

And while there is hope that its European destinations will also return, Gibbons said those will take longer to get back to what the company had in 2019.
Click to play video: 'Flight costs soar as Canadian travellers head back on planes'
Flight costs soar as Canadian travellers head back on planes

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