Quebec City

Quebec City announces first airport COVID-19 layoffs

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

Quebec City has become the first Canadian airport to publicly announce layoffs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The airport announced Friday it would lay off 40 employees as the cratering of passenger demand means fewer people will be needed to run the terminal and airfield.

As essential services, airports have stayed open, even as governments have imposed restrictions and told people to stay home. Airlines have suspended or reduced their operations, and more than 20,000 people have been laid off as a result.

Though no concrete figures exist, it is estimated thousands of people across the country have been quietly let go from privately-owned restaurants and stores that rent space in terminal buildings.

The Canadian Airports Council, which represents the country’s largest airports, estimated the publicly-owned facilities would lose up to $2.2 billion as a result of the crisis. It is asking Ottawa to suspend rent payments worth hundreds of millions of dollars airports pay for the land they occupy.

Other than regional flights, Quebec City will be reduced to just a handful of services on Westjet and Air Canada to Montreal and Toronto. The airport expects only a few hundred people to pass through the terminal each day, 85% less than before the pandemic.

The airport’s flights to the United States have also been suspended.

“YQB is a strong organization and we are well positioned on the market,” said Stéphane Poirier, Quebec City International’s President and Chief Executive Officer in a statement. “We are staying positive when we look to the future. Once this pandemic is behind us, we will work hard to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.”

Other airports have turned large parts of their airfields into parking lots as airlines scramble for space to park hundreds of planes.

Vancouver and Calgary International have closed crosswind runways so they can be used for parking.

And at Toronto Pearson, the country’s largest hub, “Large sections of the airport have been set aside for temporary aircraft parking,” the airport said Friday on Twitter.

“While the situation is changing from day to day, and even from hour to hour, our role and our priorities have not changed: to help our passengers, from here and abroad, get home safely,” said Poirier. “I would sincerely like to thank all of the employees at the airport, including YQB’s employees, who have shown an unwavering dedication to our travellers. I applaud the commitment of everyone who is helping alleviate the concerns about getting our passengers home,”

Quebec City handled 1.7 million passengers in 2018, the last year for which data are available.