Canada’s air industry plays a crucial part in Canada’s economy and how we relate to each other. With the arrival of COVID-19, this industry has been all but grounded. People are not travelling; businesses have almost stopped operating and airports are empty. Canada is known for being a leader in air safety and yet government is falling short of this mark. As restrictions are loosening, the Canadian government must develop and share a plan that allows this industry to resume so that communities across the country can begin the process of rebuilding.
In case there was any debate about the importance of travel to all of Canada, here are the numbers:
- According to Statistics Canada, over 2% of Canada’s GDP comes from the travel and tourism trade alone totaling more than $35 billion in 2018. [i]
- There are approximately 76,000 jobs within the air transportation sector; 73% of these are dependent on tourism[ii].
- According to the Meetings Means Business, the Canadian Meetings and Business Industry provides $33 billion through direct spending and provides 229,000 jobs.[iii]
- According to the Canadian Airports Council, prior to COVID, Canada’s airports employed 200,000 people, resulting in approximately $13 billion in wages and $7 billion in taxes going to various levels of government.
The reopening of Canada’s borders both internally and to international travel is crucial to facilitating not just the air industry but to small businesses like tour operators, large hotels, local restaurants and so much more. The current stressful situation for millions of Canadians is to wonder “when can I go back to work and will there be a job for me to go back to?”
It would be unfair for government to announce reopening without allowing everyone to have the time to prepare responsibly for it. This needs to be done carefully which means Canada needs to have a plan and share it.
To be fair, the Canadian government has many demands for assistance from all industries as a result of the impact of the novel coronavirus. It has provided assistance for Canadians through programs like the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy and amended student summer job programs. Specifically, it has relaxed many regulations for the air industry compliance and has provided a 10-month ground rent relief amongst other things. The demands for more financial assistance from all sectors will not stop coming. The only way to do this is to be a leader and develop an effective plan that ensures the safety of Canadians and the international travelling public on how to open borders and rebuild our economy.
It isn’t like Canada needs to build a plan from scratch. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a Montreal-based organization that falls under the United Nations to which Canada is a signatory, has produced a report that outlines the five risk-based stages (from stage 0 to stage 4) to safely reopen travel. They are:
- minimal travel with restrictions;
- low passenger volume to allow airports and airlines to implement public health strategies;
- continued increase of passenger volume to match health strategies and other local modes of transportation;
- further increase in travel as the virus outbreak is sufficiently contained in a critical mass of major destinations worldwide as determined by health authorities; and
- when interventions are available internationally. [iv]
At this time, Canada remains between stages 0 and 1. Our country is too large not to allow unrestricted national travel with the appropriate health precautions.
Likewise, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), who is also based in Montreal, Quebec, has provided a report[v] that details how airports should re-open to manage travellers and air industry staff – from pre-flight to arrivals. Canada has chosen to require the use of face masks and temperature screening… when will it implement the rest of the standards?
Furthermore, it references the Airports Council International (ACI), another Montreal-based organization, advisory bulletin on security screening. These are step-by-step guides for dealing with the air passenger experience. These are made-in-Canada solutions that need to be implemented by Canada.
“When the crisis ends, aviation needs to be ready for another role—helping to restore battered economies and lift people’s spirits through the power of travel.” – Biosafety for Air Transport: A Roadmap to Air Recovery, IATA
Many other countries around the world are equally dependent on tourism and air travel for their economies. Many of countries like Germany, France, Thailand and Japan, have begun to develop and implement a phased-in plan that slowly increases the number of countries that are allowed to travel to and from their countries. These plans go one step further by identifying how it is expanding their travel bubbles and when it will be completely reopen to international travel– in most cases later this summer.
The vastness of Canada makes air travel a necessity and not a luxury. It is critical to the economies of so many communities and for the day to day well-being of hundreds of thousands of Canadians. It is time for government to develop and share its plan for a structured safe reopening. With ICAO, IATA and ACI located in Montreal, we are known as the leader in aviation safety. Canada needs to act like a leader and show the rest of the world how we can reopen the skies in a manner that is safe for Canadians and the rest of the travelling public.
[ii]Destination Canada: Sustaining Canada’s tourism sector through COVID 19 https://www.destinationcanada.com/sites/default/files/archive/1005-Sustaining%20Canada%27s%20tourism%20sector%20through%20COVID%2019%20%28Pages%201%20-%2029%29/Sustaining%20Canada%26%23039%3Bs%20Tourism%20Sector%20Through%20COVID-19_Pages%201-29_EN_2020-04-20.pdf
[iv] International Civil Aviation Organization, Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce Take-off: Guidance for Air Travel through the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis¸ https://www.icao.int/covid/cart/Documents/CART_Report_Take-Off_Document.pdf
[v] International Air Transport Association Biosafety for Air Transport: A Roadmap to Air Recovery https://www.iata.org/contentassets/5c8786230ff34e2da406c72a52030e95/roadmap-safely-restarting-aviation.pdf