Nova Scotia

'Long way to go': Traffic up at Halifax airport, but rebound will be slow

Halifax Stanfield International Airport has seen more flights depart as of late, but staff there say this year's revenue will likely be the same as last year, if not worse.

'It will take some time. We expect it'll be several years,' says spokesperson

Airport staff inform passengers about new policies. (Pat Callaghan/CBC)

Halifax Stanfield International Airport has seen more flights depart as of late, but staff there say this year's revenue will likely be the same as last year, if not worse.

"We did see a slight increase in activity over the summer as border restrictions were lifted and people were permitted to travel again," said Leah Batstone, the airport authority's communications and marketing adviser.

"While it felt like there was a lot happening here, and it was a significant increase from where we were at the beginning of the pandemic, in perspective of where we were, we still have quite a long way to go."

Batstone said the airport has seen far fewer passengers this year than normal.

It would normally offer 46 destinations, but right now that number is 15. It was four at the low point of the pandemic.

Batstone said it might be years before service levels from prior to the pandemic are restored.

"A lot of the air service that we had here took years to bring here," said Batstone. "We have to work closely with the airlines to bring that service back, which we're doing."

Leah Batstone is a spokesperson for the Halifax International Airport Authority. (Patrick Callahan/CBC)

The airport welcomed more than four million people in 2019, but it saw barely a million last year. Total revenue in 2020 was $41.3 million, down from $114.4 million in 2019.

"We're still working through what to expect for this year, but it's expected that it'll be another year similar to last year," said Batstone.

Flights and passenger numbers are increasing at JA Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport in Sydney, N.S., said CEO Mike MacKinnon.

MacKinnon said air traffic improved in August and the airport saw 39 per cent of its typical revenue for that month.

Revenue also improved in September, but MacKinnon said the overall numbers remain low despite the improvements.

"Unfortunately due to the fact we had no flights at all from Jan 11 through June 25, 2021, year-to-date our passenger traffic is only at 16 per cent of what we had through the same period before COVID-19," MacKinnon said in an email. 

Mike MacKinnon, CEO of the JA Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport, says airport business will be slow to recover in Nova Scotia. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

Kelli MacDonald, director of communications for Tourism Nova Scotia, said in an email that rebuilding air links to other parts of the world is an important aspect of the province's tourism recovery.

She said the work is just getting started.

"Nova Scotia welcomed more visitors in July than we did in the first six months of 2021, and we're optimistic this positive trend will continue," said MacDonald.

In terms of whether people will have to show proof of vaccination in order to travel, Batstone said it's not required for now when entering the airport or when boarding. But it will be required to eat at dine-in restaurants within the airport. 

Masks will be required both inside the airport and while on its flights. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday unveiled his government's mandatory vaccine policy. It states that as of Oct. 30, all travellers aged 12 and older taking flights leaving Canadian airports, travelling on VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer trains, and marine passengers must be fully vaccinated before boarding. 

Air, rail and marine operators will be establishing processes to verify vaccine status.

Masks are required upon entrance into the airport. (Patrick Callahan/CBC)

Batstone also reminds people to be aware of other airport protocols.

"It's important that people check the requirements for the place that they're going and to ensure that they have their vaccination record if required," she said. "Also, if they require a COVID test to ensure they have that ready to go before they travel at the airport here."

Batstone said the airport authority supports vaccination and even hosted an on-site vaccination clinic several weeks ago.

There are take-home test kits in the arrivals area. The kits, supplied by Public Health, are available at no cost to travellers and airport workers.

Dr. Lisa Barrett is an infectious disease researcher and clinician at Dalhousie University. (CBC)

Now that people are getting back to air travel, Dr. Lisa Barrett, clinician investigator at Dalhousie University, said there are things people can do to travel safely.

"Your first and foremost protection for yourself and everyone around you is to be vaccinated and fully vaccinated. We do know this delta variant spreads very easily in short distances and can stay in the air," said Barrett.

Barrett also advises to have a durable mask that fits properly.

She said it is important to keep on-flight conversation to a minimum.

"When you turn to talk to people, keep that communication a little bit lower because we know that talking and generating more droplets is a way of spreading viruses, even with a mask on."

Batstone said the airport authority is optimistic that travel will increase, but it's not going to happen overnight.

"We are seeing things moving in the right direction, and we're very optimistic that we're going to begin seeing additional travel…," said Batstone. "It will take some time. We expect it'll be several years." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Feleshia Chandler is a journalist based in Halifax. She loves helping people tell their stories and has interests in issues surrounding LGBTQ+ people as well as Black, Indigenous and people of colour. You can reach her at feleshia.chandler@cbc.ca

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