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Halifax airport reports another ‘turbulent’ year due to COVID-19

Click to play video: 'Winter travel advice during Omicron wave of COVID-19' Winter travel advice during Omicron wave of COVID-19
The dead of winter is usually when travel demand peaks for Nova Scotians looking to escape the cold. This year, the Omicron wave of COVID-19 has stalled the steady build of passenger traffic the Halifax airport was seeing before the holidays – Jan 20, 2022

For the second year in row, passenger numbers at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport failed to take off due to COVID-19.

In a release Friday, the Halifax International Airport Authority (HIAA) said passenger activity was down by 75 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels, leading to “significant financial losses” and “another turbulent year.”

In 2019, the airport welcomed 4.2 million passengers. That number was 1.1 million in 2021, it said.

“The past two years have been the most challenging years in Halifax Stanfield’s history,” Joyce Carter, president and CEO of HIAA, said in the release.

“We anticipate that it will take several more years for the airport to fully recover from the effects of COVID-19, and the recovery path will have many ups and downs along the way.”

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Read more: Nova Scotians slowly rebuilding confidence in travel as Omicron wave forges on

The release said airport activity did see an increase over the summer and fall, as passenger confidence rose due to increased vaccination rates. During that time, passenger numbers rose to half of what they were pre-pandemic.

But when Omicron arrived, passenger volumes were once again fell to 25 to 30 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

“HIAA, a non-share capital corporation like other airport authorities in Canada, operates on a user-pay model,” the release said. “Without passenger activity, there are few other ways to generate revenue, leaving HIAA with no choice but to borrow millions of dollars over the past two years to maintain safe and efficient airport operations.”

It said official financial results for 2021 are not yet available, but the financial loss is expected to be “only a marginal improvement” from the $40-million loss reported in 2020.

Read more: Halifax’s airport not expecting business to bounce back to 2019 levels until 2024

The release also noted the decrease in passenger traffic has also had an impact on the airlines and other businesses at the airport, including food, beverage and retail.

“Approximately 45 per cent of concessions in the air terminal building remain closed because of the low passenger volumes, while others have reopened on limited hours due to less frequent flight activity and ongoing labour shortages,” it said.

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However, the release also added there were some positive things that came out of 2021 too.

It said the government of Canada reinstated the airport’s ability to accept U.S. and international flights after more than a year without them.

While Omicron has delayed some airlines’ plans to resume some U.S. and international services in early 2022, the airport authority hopes they will return later this year or next.

“If there is one thing we’ve learned from 2021, it’s that the aviation industry, and its people and partners, are incredibly resilient,” said Carter. “Better days are on the horizon.”

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