Nova Scotia

Sydney airport looks for lifeline after significant traffic drop

Mike MacKinnon, CEO of the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport, says traffic in the last six months is down 88 per cent compared to last year.

'Each and every month it's like being on a sinking ship,' says airport CEO

Mike MacKinnon, CEO of J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport, says passenger traffic is down 88 per cent over last year. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Travel restrictions due to COVID-19 have put a huge dent in passenger traffic at the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport this year and that has the airport authority looking for a lifeline.

CEO Mike MacKinnon said traffic since the pandemic arrived in March is down 88 per cent compared to last year and that's had a significant effect on finances.

"We have a strong balance sheet that allows us to continue operations, but each and every month it's like being on a sinking ship," MacKinnon said. "You're sinking further and further."

Airport officials initially thought traffic would pick up again in summer, but that didn't happen, he said.

Now, the airport has one flight to Toronto five days a week, and two flights to Halifax two days a week.

Halifax flights alone were four times a day before the pandemic, MacKinnon said.

Passengers are main revenue source

The initial summer schedule anticipated 4,600 seats a week departing from Sydney, but this year, the actual number was about 700 seats a week, he said.

Traffic went from 800 passengers a day last August down to 90 a day last month.

MacKinnon said summer and fall are usually peak travel times in Sydney and passengers are the airport's main source of revenue.

"We've got two runways that are just now crossing the 20-year anniversary of the last time they were rehabilitated," he said.

"So they're both coming due and the cash reserves we would have had set aside to start doing that work are what we're using to run operations at this point in time, but those are dwindling fast."

The airport authority laid off about 40 per cent of its staff, the restaurant has been closed since April, and the airlines and car rental agencies have also reduced staff at the airport, he said.

MacKinnon said he remains hopeful the federal government will come up with some financial assistance for airports.

'An economic driver'

He said Cape Breton's two Liberal MPs, Mike Kelloway and Jaime Battiste, have been very supportive and are advocating on the airport's behalf.

"They understand that the airport in Sydney is a facilitator, an economic driver for the community," MacKinnon said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 36 years. He has spent half of them covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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