Halifax airport sees big jump in planes coming for refuelling, crew swapping
18 planes have used Halifax for technical stops in the past 3 weeks
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant a "dramatic" reduction in domestic and international flights through the Halifax airport, but also brought about an increase in planes needing support on long journeys "around the world."
On Tuesday, the Halifax Stanfield International Airport had its final flight from the United States for the foreseeable future. The round-trip flight was scheduled to come from Newark, N.J.
In light of the federal government's restriction on non-essential international air travel and as border restrictions with the United States have tightened, all international passenger flights coming to Canada have been redirected to four airports in Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.
But essential travel to the U.S., Caribbean, Mexico and the French archipelago of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon is exempt from those restrictions, said Tiffany Chase, spokesperson for the Halifax International Airport Authority.
This is why some Nova Scotians might have noticed planes from Cancun, Mexico, and other southern destinations still appearing on the Halifax flight board over the last couple of weeks.
However, Chase said given the restrictions on leisure and non-essential travel, several airlines have now suspended service. Typically, Chase said the Halifax airport serves 14 international destinations, including the U.S.
"We are obviously seeing a dramatic reduction … as fewer people are choosing to travel," she said.
She said the airport authority has not needed to lay off any staff at this point.
Some airlines have also flown "a number" of repatriation flights out of Halifax for Canadians abroad looking to get home in the past few weeks, Chase said.
She said it was hard to quantify how many people had returned home on those flights through Halifax, since many returned on regularly scheduled flights, as well as on planes that left empty and came back with passengers.
But as regular flights drop off and the airport itself gets quieter, Chase said the runways have seen four times the amount of technical stops for this time of year.
These stops don't appear on the regular arrivals board and passengers don't get off the plane, Chase said. Instead, crews are swapped out if needed, or the plane is refuelled on a longer trip in or out of Canada.
In the past three weeks, twelve round-trip flights have used the Halifax airport as a tech stop, while six more used it one-way.
She did not have information on the final destinations and countries involved in these tech stops since the airport was only a facilitator, but said they involved points "around the world."
These flights do use larger "wide-bodied aircraft" that don't often come into Halifax anymore, Chase said, so people might have noticed larger planes coming in on flight radars.
If it had been a normal year, Chase said it might have been challenging to handle the increase in tech stops, but with such a reduction in flights they've been able to accommodate all technical requests.
Everyone who boards a plane to or from Canada now has to go through a health check based on guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada. Air operators are required to ask certain health questions and look for visible signs of illness.
Anyone presenting symptoms of COVID-19 will be refused boarding in aircraft with 10 seats or more. That denial will last for 14 days, or until a medical certificate is presented that confirms that the traveller's symptoms are not related to COVID-19.
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