Nfld. & Labrador

Despite COVID-19 turbulence, Gander-based EVAS Air staying on course

CEO Pat White says an increase in cargo delivery has helped offset a significant drop in passenger services.

CEO Pat White says an increase in cargo delivery has helped offset a significant drop in passenger services.

EVAS Air's diversification has allowed it to stay on track during the COVID-19 pandemic, says the company's CEO. (Submitted by EVAS Air)

If you've looked up to the sky over the past few weeks, you've likely noticed the near-total absence of airplane traffic.

Airlines around the world have scaled back domestic and international flights over the past couple of months to help curb the spread of COVID-19. 

And while the mass cancellation of passenger flights has resulted in major financial losses — just this week Air Canada reported a $1.05-billion loss for the first quarter of 2020 — one Newfoundland and Labrador airline is finding a way to weather the economic storm.

"We've been focusing keenly on our cargo airline business, which we've been doing for an extremely long time, as well as supporting the province with our air ambulance operation," said Pat White, CEO and president of Gander-based EVAS Air.

But it hasn't been all clear skies and smooth flying.

Early layoffs

Like many businesses scrambling to adjust to life with COVID-19, EVAS Air laid off some employees in the early days of the pandemic — a decision White says he did not make lightly.

"We've had to significantly shrink the company, and it's extremely a difficult decision," White said.

"People that work in this company are almost like our family and our friends. And of course it was hard to lay them off temporarily."

However, in the weeks following those initial public health orders to restrict air travel, the company has seen a big increase in the volume of cargo it delivers throughout the province.

CEO Patrick White says rehiring staff was much more pleasant than laying them off. (Submitted by EVAS Air)

In particular, White said, the airline is handling more medical and pharmaceutical cargo than in the past. And — perhaps not surprisingly, given the temporary closure of many retail shops — a boost in online shopping has increased the volume of packages from major online distributors like Amazon.

White credits the ability to stay on course to decisions made years ago to diversify the company's services beyond passenger flights.

"We've diversified the business model from all kinds of stuff — maintenance, manufacturing, repair, overhaul, training," he said.

"We have a diverse set of services that we provide to the aviation industry, and so therefore we're sitting OK here. We're going to be good for 2020."

In fact, business has now stabilized enough that EVAS Air has recently rehired some of the previously laid-off staff — a move that sits much better with White.

"We're a hell of a lot more excited about bringing them back than we were about laying them off," he said.

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