New Brunswick airports to lose millions in revenue as a result of COVID-19 pandemic

Airports in New Brunswick are feeling the economic pain of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Representatives say a recent announcement from Ottawa relieving them of their rent responsibilities for the rest of this year is merely a drop in the bucket of the support they need.

Monette Pasher, executive director of the Atlantic Canada Airports Association, said passenger traffic in airports in the region is only five to 10 per cent of what it was a year ago.

“We’re projecting our region’s airports are going to lose upwards of $118 million in operating revenue this year, so it’s quite substantial,” she said.

Many airlines have reduced or eliminated their flights to New Brunswick.

Fredericton International Airport Authority President and CEO Johanne Gallant said it’s down to five flights in and out. It’s projecting a 70 per cent decrease in revenue — so far.

Revenue at Greater Moncton Romeo LeBlanc International Airport is expected to drop around 50 per cent, between $8 million and $9 million, according to president and CEO Bernard LeBlanc.

Saint John Airport CEO Derrick Stanford said it will lose about $2 million, and that’s if a modest schedule of commercial traffic resumes in a couple of months.

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Right now, he said, it’s quiet.

“Now that most Saint Johners are home and in self-quarantine, you’re seeing a lot of the traffic dry up,” Stanford said. “By the end of the week, we’ll have no more commercial flights for the rest of April.”

They all say they can withstand the losses through reserve money, delaying or scrapping capital investments and limiting other costs.

But they say assistance from the federal government is necessary, too.

“While we can, and have, reduced our operating budget significantly, there are fixed costs that we simply can’t change,” Gallant said in an email to Global News.

“We have a building and runways to maintain and we must ensure the continued safety and security of our employees and travellers.”

Ottawa offered a small lifeline this week by waiving rental fees for airport authorities across Canada, a move that is estimated to save airports more than $300 million.

But rent is based on revenue, which is plummeting. For smaller airports, like the ones in New Brunswick, the rent relief may not help at all.

LeBlanc said Moncton was expecting to pay about $500,000 in rent this year before the COVID-19-related cancellations. Now he believes that rent will be about $90,000.

“Rather than having to pay the government the money, and get reimbursed later, we don’t have to pay it,” LeBlanc said.

“We’ve already paid the rent that’s probably due this year.”

Pasher praised the federal government for its quick response to issues affecting airports, but she wants Ottawa to confirm airports will be eligible for the federal wage subsidy program.

“Definitely, eligibility for this wage subsidy program, the emergency wage subsidy program, is going to be very crucial in the short term,” Pasher said.

“So is cash flow relief, in the short term, for some of our small airports.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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