The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), which operates and maintains Toronto Pearson under a ground lease arrangement with the Government of Canada, continues to work to ensure safe operations and to support the national economy through cargo operations. Additionally, passenger airlines have begun to use their aircraft to move cargo across Canada and around the world. Toronto Pearson has dedicated itself to working with all carriers to keep the flow of goods moving in support of the Canadian economy, including critical goods needed to fight COVID-19.
The GTAA is grateful for the Government of Canada’s decision to address the immediate challenge of 2020 airport rent. This initial step is welcome news. Yet, the impact is much deeper and wider, therefore, in support of the Canadian Airports Council (CAC), the GTAA has today written to the federal government asking for additional measures to assist in recovery of the aviation sector and restore public confidence in Canada’s travel and tourism sectors.
“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 of the 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 9 passenger airlines are expected to operate at Toronto Pearson this week, as compared to 67 airlines that were operating three weeks ago.”
At Toronto Pearson, the GTAA has been working with all government agencies, airlines and the 400+ employers who operate at the airport to help with the safe movement of Canadians as they have flown back home while the COVID-19 pandemic has affected global travel, trade and the economy. “Airport workers are dedicated to keeping the operation running smoothly and we thank them for their ongoing commitment to safe and secure operations,” added Flint.
The financial impact of the downturn in air travel is significant, impacting the GTAA’s aeronautical and commercial revenues, and airport improvement fees. Similar to other Canadian airports, the GTAA has taken immediate steps to address the financial impacts, 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.
The GTAA is seeking the following short-term assistance 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: While relief from airport rent for the remainder of 2020 helps, the impact is much deeper and wider. The industry is grappling with the reality that the recovery of the aviation sector may take two to three years. As a result, the GTAA is seeking further relief from airport ground rent through 2022. 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.
Additionally, longer-term considerations include:
- Capital project costs and stimulus funding: 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 “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects that will be needed to accommodate today’s new realities. Moreover, the GTAA looks to the federal government to consider investments in transit projects that improve ground and global connectivity. Additionally, 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 would be welcomed.
- Enhanced revenue tools: The GTAA asks that Canada join 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. Arrivals duty free would generate more revenue for governments and airport authorities, create new Canadian jobs and repatriate sales that today are happening at foreign airports.
- Pursue border modernization and innovation: Taking steps to improve the movement of travellers through the border will help rebuild traveller confidence and stimulate international travel and economic recovery. Specifically, there is a need to fast track the deployment of proven technologies at airports, including e-gates, biometrics and CT scanners. These measures will maximize passenger safety, security and flow with the added benefit of improving asset productivity and minimizing the airport’s need to build larger and more costly infrastructure, in ways that promote passenger safety and physical distancing. In a post-COVID environment, government will need to fully invest in its agencies (The Public Heath Agency of Canada, Canada Border Services Agency and Canadian Air Transport Security Authority) to ensure they are resourced and equipped to maximize passenger safety, confidence in disease tracking and mitigation across international borders.
- Support travel and tourism: At this critical moment, 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. Moreover, the GTAA requests that government boosts funding for Destination Canada to promote travel domestically and internationally, and that government takes immediate measures to ensure that the whole travel and tourism ecosystem gets the help it needs.
“The aviation, travel and tourism industries have experienced difficult setbacks before, and we have risen to meet the challenge head on,” stated Flint.
“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. 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.”