Winnipeg airport says recovery will require help

by Inside Logistics Online Staff

WINNIPEG, Manitoba – After a successful 2019, the Winnipeg Airports Authority (WAA) updated the community on what happened in 2019 within the organization as well as its ongoing approach to navigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cargo sector continued to grow while passenger numbers remained steady despite many obstacles such as the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max. Financials were strong, capping out 2019 with a reserve of $140 million in available cash or credit.

Critical infrastructure developments also laid the foundation to begin planning the next steps to allow the airport to further serve the community. WAA was in a great position heading into 2020, ushering in a strong first two months in all areas.

In March 2020, everything changed. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in flight cancellations, border restrictions and repatriation flights. Helping protect the community became the top priority for WAA. The organization implemented its emergency response plan without delay to ensure the safety of all those moving through and working in the facility to help prevent the spread of the virus based on the advice of public health authorities.

From here, WAA continued its approach to understand, mitigate and sustain. As passenger traffic plummeted by 95 percent, operating costs remain fixed at roughly 85 percent. Whether one plane or 50 planes depart in an hour, the runways still need to be maintained to deliver essential services for the community.

“It’s clear that this airport is going to be a critical part of our province’s and our country’s economic recovery,” said Barry Rempel, president and CEO of WAA.

“Unfortunately, I don’t believe WAA can recover entirely on its own.”

To mitigate the financial impacts of the pandemic, WAA reduced its energy consumption, closed off select areas of the terminal, paused capital projects, cancelled contracts and much more. However, these actions represent a small piece of a much larger equation amid one of the greatest disruptions in the history of the industry.

The entire air travel sector in Canada will continue to fall behind the rest of the world without government stepping in to provide support, which airports in other countries have benefited from to remain competitive and operational long term. Rent relief and access to loans alone won’t ensure the sustainability of Winnipeg Richardson International Airport, especially not when self-isolation protocols remain in effect domestically and safe travel corridors are not opening up to low-risk countries.

“WAA is not shying away from this opportunity to rebuild, restructure and prepare for the growth that will come,” said Rempel.

“We will continue to be leaders in transportation innovation and growth. We will continue to serve our community and find meaningful ways to give back. We will keep working diligently to welcome our community to the airport when they are ready because we are ready for them, and will be each step of the way.”