As with airports in the rest of the world, uncertainty has marked Canada’s aviation and tourism sectors since the summer of 2008 as first record high oil prices hit air travel, then a financial crisis and recession hit the entire global economy. But Canada’s airports continue to face unique challenges.
Airport rent serves as one of the biggest challenges facing Canada’s aviation and tourism sectors. During 2009, however, some progress was realised in presenting a united front on this and other aviation issues with the federal government.
In the spring, the Canadian Airports Council (CAC) teamed up with the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, the new National Airlines Council of Canada (which represents Air Canada, Air Transat, Jazz and WestJet), and other industry stakeholders in a coalition of like-minded organisations on a range of issues – most notably rent.
And in early June, the coalition took its views to government through a Travel and Tourism Day on Canada’s Parliament Hill. Together, industry met with 70 members of parliament from all political parties.
A key deliverable of the coalition is for the federal government to work on a national tourism strategy for Canada. In a press conference on Tourism Day, the Prime Minister committed to doing just that.
While overall progress on international air service liberalisation remains frustrated, progress was realised in Canada-European Union talks with a landmark agreement finalised in the spring. Once translation into all of the EU’s official languages is complete, hopefully by the autumn, any carrier within the EU or Canada will be able to operate between any point in Canada and any point in the EU.
Already carriers have identified new services they wish to operate and some have taken extra bilateral steps to operate these flights during the interim period. With the EU as Canada’s second biggest aviation market, trading partner and source of tourists, this is a big move for Canada’s airports and our tourism sector.
Elsewhere, Canada’s airports remain frustrated with a federal view on international air policy that seems to be out of step with the rest of the world. As a result, Canada already has lost one major air carrier, Singapore Airlines, while another, Emirates, remains frustrated in its attempts to even be able to operate daily service.
Some headway is being realised in airport efforts to secure competitive Foreign/Free Trade Zones (FTZ) in Canada. Today, Canada is the only G8 nation not to have a competitive FTZ programme – seen as essential for major international export-oriented companies exploring their foreign investment options.
Airport efforts on FTZs have attracted the support of several of Canada’s provinces and other stakeholders, as well as some champions within the federal government.
On these, and other areas, the CAC is lobbying hard for them to be included in a fiscal update scheduled for the autumn.
Meanwhile, Canada’s airports will enter the latter half of 2009 watching to see if there will be economic recovery and if air travel recovers. Traffic is down double-digit levels in some parts of Canada, although the decline generally has been less severe than in the United States.
Trans-border traffic to the US, already in decline during 2008, continues to fall this year. Some of the biggest declines have been domestically, while overseas traffic has managed to maintain some growth – a bright spot in an otherwise weak operating environment. Cargo traffic also continues to suffer, as demand for the kind of high-value goods shipped by air remains weak.
Airport World 2009 - Issue 5