Editorial: Nov.Dec. 2008
During the recent federal election campaign, the Canadian Airports Council (CAC) issued a statement calling on our political parties to address the issue of Canada’s aviation competitiveness in the global market.
By Stacy Bradshaw
During the recent federal election campaign, the Canadian Airports Council (CAC) issued a statement calling on our political parties to address the issue of Canada’s aviation competitiveness in the global market. With the economy, environment and health care topping Canadians’ list of concerns, the plight of aviation was never heard. Four days before the election, only the Bloc and the NDP had responded to an aviation policy questionnaire sent to them by the CAC (also posted at http://www.cacairports.ca/english/).
The ongoing battle over our ability to compete is rooted in the fact that aviation has never been fully
acknowledged as a major driver in the Canadian economy. The CAC, ATAC and other Canadian associations have continually argued that aviation competitiveness is fundamental to improving our world standing in international trade and tourism. Unfortunately, roadblocks such as airport rent, limited air access to foreign markets, inadequate resources for border services, and aviation security fees still exist and continue to impact our competitiveness as an air service destination.
In a speech delivered in September, Transat A.T. president and CEO Jean-Marc Eustache told a Montreal audience that “Canada is currently not attractive to air carriers, either as a hub or as a gateway to North America, due to federal policy that has turned Canada’s airports into ‘cash cows’ for the government.” Airport rent alone represents a $300 million a year expense that airports have to pass on to air carriers and their passengers. Evidence of our unattractiveness can be seen by the fact that in excess of 2.2 million Canadians are crossing the border annually to fly out of U.S. airports in places such as Buffalo, Plattsburg, Burlington or Bellingham.
The same problem holds true in the air cargo industry. Carriers are flying to near-border airports and unloading cargo onto trucks for the final leg of the journey into Canada.
While waiting with bated breath for an open skies agreement with the EU to be completed, Canada needs to be looking beyond Europe to signing agreements with countries in Asia, the Middle East and South America. The United States has already completed its agreement with the EU and has more than 90 bilateral agreements signed around the world, compared to a mere handful for Canada.
The effects on both trade and tourism for the country cannot be underestimated. Internationally, tourism is a $6 trillion industry employing 220 million people around the world – two million of them in Canada. “Our ability to capture a fair share of this market is seriously threatened by federal policies,” says CAC president and CEO Jim Facette.
Progress is painfully slow. In 2007, the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade’s “Ten Steps to a Better Trade Policy” recommended that the government should expand its network of air services agreements around the world.
Now is the time for the new government to act on that recommendation and to quickly address other concerns such as airport rents and security fees. In a world moving as quickly as ours, there is no time for hesitation.