New Brunswick

Greater Moncton airport uses cash reserves to keep going during pandemic

After working to cut its debt almost in half the past few years, the Greater Moncton Romeo LeBlanc International Airport lost 98 per cent of its passenger traffic in April and May this year, CEO Bernard LeBlanc said Tuesday. 

Airport put off several capital projects this year, after passenger traffic dropped severely

Passenger traffic at the Greater Moncton International Romeo LeBlanc Airport was down drastically in April and May, says CEO Bernard LeBlanc. (Radio-Canada)

After working to cut its debt almost in half the past few years, the Greater Moncton Romeo LeBlanc International Airport lost 98 per cent of its passenger traffic in April and May this year, CEO Bernard LeBlanc said Tuesday. 

LeBlanc was speaking at a public community consultative and noise management meeting about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the airport.

LeBlanc said between 2014 and 2019, the airport authority reduced its debt level from over $40 million to about $23 million.

Coming into the pandemic, the airport had $8 .5 million in the bank, most of it earmarked for capital projects.

But $11.5 million in capital work had to be cut back, he said.

"So what we've been able to do is to use our cash reserves to essentially pay the bills to keep the airport running," LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc says the airport authority was 'pandemic ready' after reducing its debt level over the last few years. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

He said the idea is to make the cash last as long as possible.

"We expect to have enough cash to last us until the end of the first quarter of next year based on the forecast we see and then we get into the position where we actually have to borrow to keep the operations going," LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc said international cargo traffic is helping, and the airport is getting about 20 per cent of its revenue from the federal wage subsidy program at $100,000 a month.

But some layoffs are expected in August.

LeBlanc said the Greater Moncton International Airport Authority has been working with the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees to minimize the impact.

"These could involve early retirements, job sharing, combining positions/roles, not filling vacant positions, etc. as possible alternatives to permanent employee layoffs. At this point, we can unfortunately not share the full impacts as these discussions are ongoing, but we should be in a position to do so come mid to late August." 

Vincent Martin, director of operations for the airport, says a project to capture and release glycol, the substance used to de-ice aircraft, is going ahead. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

Vincent Martin, the director of operations at the airport, said several projects slated for this year are being deferred, including an expansion of the "apron," an area where aircraft are parked, loaded or boarded.

A planned cargo road and an expanded de-icing pad have also been put off.

Martin said a program to capture and release glycol, the substance used to de-ice aircraft, will go ahead.

The airport provides a de-icing pad for aircraft. But some of the material runs off the airfield into storm ditches and Cooks Brook, which runs through the field.

Officials have been working on a plan to deal with the runoff properly, without overwhelming the new wastewater system.

TransAqua, Greater Moncton's wastewater commission, is building a new $90-million biosolids water-treatment facility, expected to be completed this year.

LeBlanc is hopeful air travel will begin to pick up. (CBC)

"We're going to have our sets of tanks that will be able to capture the fluid," Martin said. "Then we'll be able to send it at a controlled rate through the municipal system to TransAqua so that they'll be able to process [it]." 

Construction has begun and will be completed by October.

LeBlanc said there are many tough decisions to be made as budget preparations for next year are underway. 

LeBlanc predicted the "airport world" will recover from the pandemic but said it's too soon to say when that will happen.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now