As of August 9th, international flights will be able to land at nine Canadian airports: Halifax, Québec City, Montreal Trudeau, Ottawa, Toronto Pearson, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver: an increase of five airports from the four restricted to receive international flights since last winter.
But, as positive as this is, it is a first step. While the Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra, committed to further easing of travel restrictions in “phase 3” of the government’s reopening plan in September, the timing and extent of when and how additional airports – including our airport in the British Columbia capital of Victoria — will be able to regain international flights remains unknown.
In addition to the nine airports mentioned above, 70 Canadian airports have Canada Border Services Agency stations to handle international flights. Of these, an additional 20 airports had international scheduled flights prior to the pandemic and are still barred from receiving them. The federal government must move as quickly as possible to restore international air access to our regional airports, many of which have flights scheduled in September, October and later in the fall to the United States and sun destinations. The uncertainty is a concern to travellers and our communities.
Global connectivity is critical throughout Canada. Scheduled airline service and charter flights support outbound travel by Canadians, critical access for global companies, and inbound tourism. Airports that typically have international air access are situated in a wide variety of areas, from major tourism destinations like Victoria, BC and Charlottetown, PE to regional gateways like Fort McMurray, AB or Deer Lake, NL. There are also many airports, such as Oshawa Executive Airport, which support point-to-point business jet connections that globally oriented businesses rely on.
Direct international access to these regions not only allows Canadians to travel abroad, but also creates new tourism and employment opportunities at home. While communities are always delighted to welcome Canadian tourists, foreign travel is a highly lucrative and desirable market, generating billions in spending every year. No community should have to forego its share of this business, which sustains local travel, tourism and trade-oriented jobs.
Canada’s airports are ready to welcome international flights, thanks to their ongoing efforts to keep travellers and workers safe and healthy, and new access to federal support programs.
The Regional Air Transportation Initiative is helping airports develop and implement enhanced services to support regional connectivity. The expanded Airports Capital Assistance Program is providing financial assistance to regional airports for safety-related capital infrastructure projects and equipment. The Airport Relief Fund is a new program delivering almost $65 million in financial relief to targeted Canadian airports to help maintain operations.
While grateful for financial support, airports and our community partners are focused on rebuilding businesses and restarting the economy. Five additional airports granted permission to receive international flights is a good start, but there are still 70 more to go. The federal government must continue on a deliberate and consistent path to reopen the rest of the country as quickly and safely as possible.
Geoff Dickson is President and CEO of the Victoria Airport Authority and chair of the Canadian Airports Council’s Small Airports Caucus.