Saskatoon

Regina International Airport asks for federal money to help survive COVID-19 slowdown

The president and CEO of the Regina Airport Authority is asking for federal support to help deal with a massive slowdown in traffic.

Airport authority's traffic has slowed down substantially since pandemic began

Traffic at the Regina International Airport has slowed to a trickle since the COVID-19 pandemic was announced. (Matt Duguid/CBC)

The president and CEO of the Regina Airport Authority is asking for federal support to help deal with a massive slowdown in traffic.

"We're burning through our cash reserves," James Bogusz said. 

"We're going to batten down the hatches and weather the storm with some cost cutting measures, to the best of our ability. But we just can't can't generate the funds we need right now."

The authority estimates it will be forced to dip into its line of credit by late summer.

The Regina Airport Authority is a non-profit agency that mainly generates revenues through travel-related fees, including landing fees for airports and parking lot revenue.

In return, the authority uses the money to pay staff and maintain the airport. 

Bogusz said passenger traffic "virtually fell off a cliff" in April, with the airport down 98.2 per cent in passengers year-over-year. 

As a result, the authority is asking for a grant or forgivable loan to help the airport remains viable until passenger traffic picks up, much like what airports in the U.S. recently received.

"Something where we could access money without paying interest, without having to take years to pay it back," he said. 

"It would take us many, many, many years to pay back millions of dollars of debt to cover operating costs that are here for the betterment of our community and the betterment of southern Saskatchewan."

Regina-Wascana MP Michael Kram has also begun calling for federal aid for airports. He said the Liberals' plan for airport lease deferrals does not go far enough.

"Airports are as vital to the nation as highways and railroads," he said in a news release. 

"By failing to support airports, the federal Liberals are gambling with our country's ability to rebuild and recover in a post-pandemic world."

Slow recovery

Meanwhile, the Saskatoon Airport Authority is doing its best to deal with the situation.

Vice-president of business development CJ Dushinski said the airport used to see about 3,000 passengers a day. Now, the terminal sees about 60 to 70 passengers each day.

"It's a pretty drastic decline in what we're seeing here," she said.

According to forecasts, it could take anywhere from a year and a half to three years before air travel returns to 2019 levels.

"It's not going to be something that we recover from quickly," said Dushinski.

"It's going to take time for that confidence in the industry to recover and for people to feel comfortable travelling again." 

She said the Saskatoon airport is in good shape financially, but that the facility has already looked at reducing the amount of work done by outside contractors.

Ultimately, she said it's difficult to cut many services.

"Many of our costs are fixed because we are a 24/7 facility," she said 

"There's a lot of things we can't really change." 

With files from Saskatoon Morning

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