With international and cross-country travel restricted under COVID-19 health orders, it’s no surprise that Canadian airports are struggling.
Gordon Duke, President and CEO of the Prince George Airport Authority (PGAA), says it’s going to be a three to five-year range before the airport gets back to 2019 passenger numbers, according to PGAA’s April data.
The PGAA presented to city council last night (Aug. 17) at its regular public meeting to give an overview of the airport’s performance in 2019 as well as an update on 2020.
“We thought we might have a rough [first quarter] but by June this would be dealt with and we would be back on that recovery phase,” said Duke. “It’s going to be a slow extended recovery period we are looking at.”
While there was a slight decrease in passenger numbers from 2018 to 2019, this year is a whole different picture.
Last year, the airport made a $3.7 million profit, which is reinvested in capital projects, and saw aircraft movements up seven per cent over 2018.
March and April of 2020, however, saw a 96 per cent decrease in 2019 passenger levels. The PGAA is a not-for-profit organization that relies largely on revenues from lights and passenger traffic.
“Looking at the number of departures in January and February we had just under 600 departures and in May we had 20,” says Duke.
Traffic at YXS for the month of June was also down 91 per cent compared to the same period last year.
The PGAA was able to retain its staff thanks to the federal emergency wage subsidy, and Duke noted the staff, at Mayor Lyn Hall’s suggestion, have been volunteering for the Meals-on-Wheels program during downtime at the airport.
“I’m finding it benefits our employees to stay connected to the city and region we serve,” said Duke.
The federal government has also provided ground lease rent relief until the end of the year, but Duke says it's actually a tax on revenue that the PGAA is currently not making.
He says other government programs haven’t really been of any benefit.
“We continue to look for help from all levels of governments as are all Canadian airports,” explained Duke.
“It has changed the way we have approached things so we are spending a significant time telling our story and getting out to all levels of government – we want people to understand what’s at stake here.”
There is a silver lining, however, as YXS is actually faring better than other Canadian airports.
This includes triple the amount of passengers they saw in July compared to June, when more than 9,700 passengers came through YXS.
However, this is also a 75 per cent decrease from July 2019 as a result of COVID-19's travel restrictions.
“Through sound financial management, PGAA and the guidance of everyone involved the airport itself is in a pretty good financial shape, but it’s not sustainable forever, certainly we are in a little better shape than a fair number of Canadian airports,” said Duke.
He also pointed to a number of good signs for Prince George’s airport.
“At a time where some airports have no service at all, we are getting Flair [Air] come in here next week with some really good pricing. We are working with some other airlines as well,” said Duke.
“As tough as this is, there will be some nimble airlines that see an opportunity here and it’s up to us to support it.”
There’s also been a number of changes at the terminal due to COVID-19.
Passengers are now required to wear masks at all times in the YXS terminal and PGAA is only permitting terminal access to employees and passengers with a valid ticket, unless a traveller requires assistance.
In September, YXS says WestJet will be flying three times a day Monday to Friday, two on Saturdays and one on Sunday to Vancouver, and Air Canada will be flying to YVR twice a day, seven days a week.
Central Mountain Air (CMA) will operate three days a week to Kamloops, Kelowna, Terrace/Kitimat and Fort St. John, and, on select days, a one-stop service to Calgary and Vancouver.
On Sept. 14, CMA is adding direct flights to Edmonton and Fort Nelson.