New Brunswick

Fredericton airport lays off 8 employees, cites COVID-19 slowdown

The Fredericton International Airport is laying off eight employees, citing a 95 per cent drop in traffic over the past three months because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the estimated three to five years it will take to recover.

Traffic has dropped 95% over past 3 months of pandemic, says president and CEO

The Fredericton International Airport issued the layoff notices on Wednesday. (Fredericton International Airport)

The Fredericton International Airport is laying off eight employees, citing a 95 per cent drop in traffic over the past three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the estimated three to five years it will take to recover.

The layoffs, which take effect Sept. 2, represent a 30 per cent reduction in the workforce, president and CEO Johanne Gallant said Wednesday.

"This was a difficult decision and not one we came to lightly," she said.

"But we possibly will lose a minimum of $2 million this year."

The airport has only one daily Air Canada flight to Montreal and a WestJet flight to Toronto three days a week after airlines cut routes across Canada in mid-March, when the country went into COVID-19 lockdown.

"We've made lots of reduction on our expenses," Gallant said. "Everything that's non-essential has been cut. We've deferred some capital projects, and now we have to adjust the workforce."

The eight employees are all full time and hold a variety of positions in operations and administration, said Gallant, declining to get into specifics, citing privacy.

The cuts will not affect safety or security, she said.

The affected employees were informed individually Wednesday morning and are taking the news as well as could be expected, according to Gallant.

"I think people understand that we are seriously affected by the COVID and our industry is affected long term."

Fredericton International Airport president and CEO Johanne Gallant said the cuts were made based on current projections, but she hopes people will start to travel again and air service will increase. (Shane Fowler/CBC News file photo)

They will receive severance, as per their collective agreement, and assistance finding new jobs, she said.

"Our people are the heart of this organization. They are dedicated, loyal, and have worked hard to help this business grow so that we can help our region grow.

"We are focused on supporting our team through this challenging transition, and on ensuring YFC is here for our community during the economic recovery."

If business rebounds sooner than expected, it's possible some employees could be called back, Gallant said. "It's all pending on how the industry is doing."

Airports across the country and airlines are also lobbying for more support from the federal government, she added. Wage subsidies, although helpful, have not been enough.

More flights expected

WestJet is expected to add two more days of service a week in Fredericton, bringing it up to five, by Aug. 4, said airport spokesperson Kate O'Rourke.

"So certainly we're glad to see that, but we've got a long ways to go before we get back to pre-COVID levels," when the airline was flying twice a day, she said.

The airport is also hoping to see Air Canada add a flight to Toronto in August, said O'Rourke. "But that will depend on booking numbers, of course."

Layoffs in Saint John and Moncton

Last month, the Saint John Airport announced it would be temporarily laying off seven employees on July 3 "until conditions improve and demand for travel returns."

The airport had previously deferred more than $5 million in capital projects, cut expenses by $1.3 million, and "exhausted all available government support programs.

"Unfortunately, these measures have not been enough in the face of prolonged fight suspensions and strict border restrictions," it said in a statement at the time.

 The Greater Moncton Romeo LeBlanc International Airport has also announced some layoffs are expected in August after its passenger traffic dropped 98 per cent in April and May.

Terminal expansion continues

The $32-million terminal expansion project continues. Costs related to the project were committed prior to the pandemic.

The project, announced in May 2018 and on schedule to be completed in mid-2021, will increase the size of the airport building by half.

A digital rendering of the Fredericton airport's exterior once the expansion is complete. (Submitted by Fredericton International Airport Authority)

More ticket counters, a larger kitchen, renovated washrooms, a children's play area, more seating and more energy-efficient geothermal heating will be among the changes.

The federal and provincial governments each contributed $9 million to the project, with the airport authority covering the remainder of the cost.

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