Charlottetown airport plans for future after pandemic

The Charlottetown Airport Authority released new information about revenues and passenger traffic in 2020 during its annual meeting held on Tuesday.

Airport authority held it's annual general meeting in Charlottetown on Tuesday

Officials with Charlottetown airport say passenger traffic dramatically reduced since before the pandemic — down by 95 per cent between April and December of 2020. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

The Charlottetown Airport Authority released new information about its performance in 2020 during its annual meeting held on Tuesday — with revenues and passenger traffic way down — and highlighted optimism on the horizon.

The pandemic caused job losses at the airport and there is currently only one carrier, Air Canada, providing air service to the Island. 

One sure sign that things are starting to turn around on P.E.I. was that the annual public meeting was held online and in person.

"I think we all know it's been a difficult year and it's a difficult time for our industry," said Doug Newson, CEO of the Charlottetown Airport Authority.

"But at the same time, you know, we're looking forward to the future and recovery — and the long-term viability of this airport is strong and we will be here to get through this."

Doug Newson, CEO of the Charlottetown Airport Authority, presents his report during the annual public meeting held at Charlottetown airport on May 4, 2021. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

The information provided from the past year was a stark reminder of the impacts of the pandemic.

There was a decline of 81 per cent of passengers at 71,480 — down from 383,183 in 2019.

Total revenues were around $4.8 million in 2020, down from $11.1 million in 2019.

Expenditures on capital investments were reduced to $383,000 from a planned $3.3 million.

Plans were underway for four airlines to operate out of Charlottetown going to six destinations for the summer of 2020. By the end of 2020, it was down to just one airline flying to a single destination.

"It's been extremely stressful in terms of trying to forecast revenues and passenger numbers," Newson said.

"I think in 2020 we did 25 different re-forecasts of our budget and already early in 2021 we're looking at a new budget forecast just based on things not recovering as quickly as we would have hoped."

With uncertainty still surrounding the air industry, no one knows when leisure travel will be able to resume but the authority is working to be ready when the time comes.

Signs remind travellers at the Charlottetown airport to follow public health protocols. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Newson said the airport remains debt free and has money available thanks to federal support and the delay of major capital projects.

The airport is also going through the process of obtaining an Airports Council International Airport Health Accreditation.

It's a certification around public health guidelines — like hand sanitizing, enhanced cleaning and protocols.

It is just one part of the work underway at the Charlottetown airport to help passengers feel safe to start flying again soon.

There are plans for four airlines to be serving the Island by this summer with their official start dates to be worked out based on how the country is dealing with the pandemic.

Newson says they are working with more carriers planning to return services to Charlottetown for the summer season. (Tony Davis/CBC)

What's needed next, Newson said, is clarity on things like vaccine passports and how — once it's safe — the federal government plans to encourage Canadians to travel. 

Newson said it will be also crucial to see support continue for the airlines in the meantime.

"We need strong policy but we also need strong financial support to make sure that the carriers are healthy and the airports are healthy and people can move again," Newson said, "because there will be pent up demand for air travel and we want to make sure that it's affordable."

Although there remains a lot of uncertainty as to when air travel will start to recover, the authority predicts that it could take years to get back to 2019 levels.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Jessica Doria-Brown


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