Canadian airports and cities

Help coming for Canada’s airports stricken by COVID-19

An undated photo showing the gates at Quebec City’s Jean Lesage International Airport (photo: Jean Lesage International).

The federal government responded Monday to airport pleas to help ease their cash flow during the COVID-19 crisis, suspending rent payments at 21 facilities across the country.

Canadian airports are being given a break on their rent payments to Ottawa to the tune of $334 million for the rest of the year. In Canada’s unique ownership model, the federal government continues to own airport land at the largest hubs, while local non-profit authorities operate the facilities and pay to rent the land.

“From March to December 2020, the Government of Canada intends to wave rent for 21 of the biggest airports, and will provide comparable support to Billy Bishop airport,” said Transport Minister Marc Garneau in a statement. “We want to provide relief for these important entities who are still open under difficult circumstances, and are helping to help bring Canadians home.”

Airports are projected to lose in the range of $2.2 billion this year due to the pandemic as airlines cancel flights, and passengers stay home. They have called for the rent break as a first step to assuage their cash flow concerns.

Essentially, every airport’s sources of revenue – passengers and the money they spend – have dried up. At the same time facilities are staying open as essential services to their communities and as key cargo gateways.

“This relief on immediate payments to government is welcomed,” said Canadian Airports Council President Daniel-Robert Gooch in an e-mail. “We look forward to working with the Government of Canada on longer term measures to ensure the business continuity of Canada’s airports, including the concerns of most of Canada’s airports that do not pay rent to the federal government but nevertheless worry about being able to serve their communities for essential services in the movement of people and goods, medical services, search and rescue and other essential functions for the duration of the crisis.”

“In addition to immediate financial relief,” the CAC tweeted Monday, it “has also proposed longer-term, low-cost-to-government measures like arrivals duty free to stimulate post-coronavirus recovery.”

“We’re appreciative of the Government of Canada’s support in recognition of the significant financial challenges being faced by Canada’s airports due to COVID-19,” said Halifax International in a tweet.

Airports across the country – from St. John’s to Victoria – are eligible for the rent break. Some facilities, such as Kelowna and Hamilton, are municipally owned and don’t pay federal rent. Airports north of the Arctic Circle are generally owned by territorial governments.

Airports have responded to the crisis by cutting staff, cancelling construction projects, and reducing their service hours.

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