The Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which operates and maintains Toronto Pearson under a ground lease arrangement with the Government of Canada, outlined the impact of COVID-19 on its operations over the past few weeks, while also calling on the need for additional rent relief and further government support.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) acknowledges the Government of Canada’s earlier decision to address the immediate challenge of 2020 airport rent. A move that waives ground lease rents from March 2020 through to December 2020 for the 21 airport authorities that pay the federal government rent. The GTAA, however, has written to the federal government asking for additional measures to assist in recovery of the aviation sector.
“Like all airports around the world, Toronto Pearson has felt the dramatic and unprecedented impacts of COVID-19 – impacts which extend well beyond the airport to the wider aviation, travel and tourism sectors,” said Deborah Flint, president and CEO, GTAA. “Passenger numbers at Toronto Pearson continue to drop significantly from an average of 130,000 per day to 5,000 per day. The number of flights has dropped as well, from an average of 1,300 per day to approximately 350 per day. Additionally, only nine passenger airlines are expected to operate at Toronto Pearson this week, as compared to 67 airlines that were operating three weeks ago.”
The GTAA notes it has taken immediate steps to address the financial impacts of the significant downturn in air travel, including the reduction of planned 2020 operating costs and capital spending, the closure of parts of the airport’s facilities, and new measures to protect employees and passengers.
At the same time, Toronto Pearson and the GTAA have been working with all government agencies, airlines and 400-plus employers who operate at the airport to help with the safe movement of Canadians as they have flown back home during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Airport workers are dedicated to keeping the operation running smoothly and we thank them for their ongoing commitment to safe and secure operations,” said Flint.
The GTAA, in part, outlines the following short-term and long-term assistance it is seeking from government:
• Regulatory flexibility and funding: The GTAA and other Canadian airports are seeking flexibility to adjust tight implementation deadlines and dedicated federal funding to help airports meet pending regulatory requirements;
• 2021/22 relief from ground lease payments: The GTAA is seeking further relief from airport ground rent through 2022. It notes the sooner that such relief is assured, the better positioned the sector will be to retain jobs and advance capital that will help stimulate the economy;
• Capital project costs and stimulus funding: The GTAA notes the cost of building airport facilities in a post-COVID environment will significantly increase in order to restore the public’s confidence and meet public expectations that facilities incorporate measures to address physical distancing and reduce congestion. As a result, the GTAA looks to the government to support what the GTAA describes as “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects that will be needed to accommodate today’s new realities. The GTAA is also looking to the federal government to consider investments in transit projects that improve ground and global connectivity, as well as changes to the National Trade Corridor Fund criteria that broaden the scope of eligible projects in support of projects that promote a higher transit mode split.
• Enhanced revenue tools: The GTAA is asking that Canada joins more than 60 countries in allowing duty free in arrivals areas, in order to welcome visitors to Canada with made-in-Canada products like local wine and spirits.
• Pursue border modernization and innovation: Taking steps to improve the movement of travellers through the border, explains the GTAA, will help rebuild traveller confidence and stimulate international travel and economic recovery. Specifically, the GTAA notes there is a need to fast track the deployment of proven technologies at airports, including e-gates, biometrics and CT scanners.
• Support travel and tourism: The GTAA notes the government’s help is needed to provide support for Toronto Pearson’s airline partners who have been devastated by COVID-19, to enable the return of limited international city pairs as soon as is safe and practicable as a means of promoting future international travel.
“I am confident that by working collaboratively with our government partners, airlines, airport retailers, hoteliers, tourism businesses and attractions, as well as workers, we can begin to identify ways to help restore public confidence in air travel and our airports once again,” said Flint. “From implementing technology-based solutions within the airport environment to adapting our terminal infrastructure to allow for greater physical spacing, we are turning our attention to what the future of aviation will look like.”