TORONTO — Two major travel organizations – one here in Canada, one international – have issued strongly worded statements as the weeks go by with no more word on the federal government’s airline industry bailout package, and as borders close once again in the wake of the new variant of COVID-19.
The National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC) says Canada’s airlines need a clear support plan as the airline industry continues to lose billions of dollars to the pandemic.
As countries around the world continue to provide financial assistance to their aviation sectors, Canadian airlines and their employees are still waiting for meaningful sectoral support from the federal government, says the NACC in its Dec. 23 statement.
The NACC adds that since the onset of the pandemic, tens of thousands of aviation employees in Canada have lost their jobs, billions of dollars in aircraft are parked and out of operation, and passenger numbers have collapsed to approximately 10% of typical levels.
“Our members have been forced to initiate substantial reductions in service in all regions of the country, as they take every measure to preserve liquidity yet maintain operations to as many communities as possible,” said NACC President and CEO, Mike McNaney.
“The objective now is not simply to try and position the industry for recovery, but to ensure permanent damage is not inflicted on the sector and the communities we serve.”
McNaney says that a report released on Dec.11 by the Industry Strategy Council, an economic advisory group created by the federal government in response to the pandemic, notes that COVID-19 has caused a “catastrophic decrease” in air travel and that aviation and aerospace are in “urgent need of targeted assistance to avoid collapse”. If the government does not act, the Strategy Council warned that consumers will see reduced services, higher prices, diminished competition and a loss of connectivity.
“Canada remains an outlier as one of the few nations that has not provided sectoral support to its aviation industry. We need the government to move with a sense of urgency, in keeping with other countries around the world that have now provided over $200 billion in aid. This support is critical if we are to stabilize aviation in the immediate term and provide hope to the tens of thousands of aviation employees who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic,” said McNaney.
NACC’S FOLLOW-UP ON RAPID TESTING AT AIRPORTS
This afternoon the NACC posted another statement, following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comments today at his COVID-19 briefing that the federal government is “currently having discussions” with provinces including Ontario and Quebec about rapid testing at airports, similar to what’s available at YYC.
On Monday Ontario Premier Doug Ford expressed his frustration with the lack of testing for inbound travellers at Pearson Airport, and said he’d implement testing with or without the federal government’s support. “We will be doing tests at Pearson,” said Ford. “We’re not putting people at risk here in Ontario anymore. I’m not waiting for the federal government. I’ll be waiting forever. I’m frustrated. This is a no-brainer. Our borders are like a sieve.”
In its statement today the NACC said the industry is encouraged to hear the federal government is working with Ontario and Quebec on potential testing programs similar to that at YYC. “Canada’s airlines fully support this on-going engagement, and urge all governments to move quickly,” said the NACC, adding that since March 2020 Canada’s airline industry has invested millions of dollars in new procedures and safety measures to address the pandemic and ensure safety of travel.
Added McNaney: “We will continue to take every effort possible to work with governments across Canada, to drive the roll out of rapid testing programs as part of a continuous and layered approach to protecting employee, passenger, and public health during the pandemic and to safely re-open the sector.”
“IT IS TIME NOW TO RETHINK QUARANTINE RULES”
Meanwhile the UNWTO has weighed in on 2020 and the pandemic’s debilitating impact on travel and tourism, saying that the world’s governments must rethink quarantine rules for tourists.
“It is time now to rethink quarantine rules for tourists. To embrace innovation and new solutions for testing travellers before or after their journeys,” says the UNWTO’s Secretary General, Zurab Pololikashvili.
“Alongside this, restrictions on travel must be eased or lifted in a responsible and coordinated manner as soon as it is safe and feasible.
The important steps undertaken to ensure better coordination and refusing to stand still, are the precursors to prepare for the new year. 2021 could be a critical year for the restart of tourism, but only if we continue along this path,” he said.
“We now call on governments to do more. To show that safe international travel is not only possible but, given the social and economic benefits that only tourism can deliver, essential too.”
Pololikashvili said that “without doubt, news of a vaccine against the COVID-19 virus gives us reason for cautious optimism. However, the restart of tourism – and the many millions of people who depend on it – cannot wait for mass vaccinations to become a reality.”
In the face of such an unprecedented downturn, tourism ends the year more united and determined than ever, he added. “The foundations are there for this to be a turning point. It is a moment for directing our sector towards greater sustainability and inclusivity and realizing its massive potential to deliver lasting development and change for all.
“We cannot waste this chance.”