"These are the people taking it in the teeth and we're on record saying the federal government should play an active role.''
November 3, 2020 By Nicholas Mercer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Central Voice
It’s been a long seven months for EVAS Air president and CEO Patrick White.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions it has placed on his industry have seen his Gander-based operation fall to its regular cargo runs and a handful of charter flights.
Since April, White has been working to come up with a plan he could submit to the federal government in hopes of starting some sort of a recovery for the airline industry.
He’d like to get back to the way his operations looked prior to the global calamity.
“We must maintain our national system,” said White. “It is just that simple.”
White recently wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to get the federal government to consider implementing his plan.
“I just want people to understand the importance of air networks,” he said.
He sees a two-step process for getting the regional routes running now re-connected together nationally.
The first step is a return-to-air-travel plan that is both controlled and safe. In White’s proposal, he would use the data available on the most effective ways of controlling the COVID-19 virus.
He sees social distancing, mask wearing, screening, contract tracing and sanitization as key factors in this.
“An appropriate plan vetted by Health Canada can be successfully put in place to protect passengers during air travel,” wrote White in his letter. “The safe return of travel would allow the network infrastructure to start collecting the needed fees to continue to keep the system alive.”
The other part of the return-to-travel plan would include what White calls liquidity. It would be funding from the federal government in either long-term repayable,or non-repayable, loans. There could also be federally backed loan guarantees.
White figures the cost would run $5 to $7 billion.
White’s effort has the full support of Gander International Airport president and CEO Reg Wright.
“The hardest hit sector from this pandemic has been aviation,” he said. “That includes airports, airlines, service providers in aerospace and aviation. These are the people taking it in the teeth and we’re on record saying the federal government should play an active role in centre specific support including the airlines and we support it whole heartedly.”
Newfoundland and Labrador was hit particularly hard by the pandemic and its effects on air travel.
In April, Air Canada shut down 30 domestic routes, six of them to airports in this province. Westjet cancelled about 100 flights, some involving this province.
The Gander International Airport air traffic is down 85 per cent year-over-year since the pandemic started.
In comparison, the St. John’s International Airport Authority is reporting a total loss of 80 per cent of passenger traffic year-over-year in 2020, while the Halifax International Airport Authority has seen a 90-per-cent drop since the start of the pandemic.
For Wright and others in the industry, there is a need to know there is a recovery plan in place. The airlines will be an integral part of the economic recovery in the future.
“This was never about the rapid recovery because travel demand right now is universally low,” said Wright. “Again, the reason we are getting more of the brunt of it in Atlantic Canada, is because of the travel restrictions.
“I think what the airlines crave, as do the airports, is not some mass sudden demand for travel because it won’t happen. What they need to know is the certainty that the recovery can start.”