Canada's airports likely to hike passenger fees to fund upgrades


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Canada's airports likely to hike passenger fees as need for upgrades rise in the wake of pandemic

The need for more space in an emergency was made dramatically clear in August 2005, when an Air France jet slid past the runway at Toronto's Pearson airport, before crashing into a ravine and catching fire

Thu Aug 13, 2020 - The National Post
Ryan Tumilty

OTTAWA – Canada’s airports are facing the bill for long-recommended upgrades just as COVID-19 has decimated their revenues and passengers could end up covering the costs when planes take off again.

In early March, before the pandemic was front and centre, the government published new regulations calling for the extension of emergency overshoot areas at major airport runways. The overshoots, called runway end safety areas (RESA), exist at airports around the world and are designed for emergencies when planes run out of room while landing
 
Canada’s standards on this issue have been lower than the rest of the world for years, with the current rules requiring only 60 metres of overshoot area and another 90 metres as a recommendation.

The need for more space in an emergency was made dramatically clear in August 2005, when an Air France jet landed at Toronto’s Pearson airport and slid more than 250 metres past the end of the runway, before crashing into a ravine and catching fire.

In what was widely viewed as nothing short of a miracle, all of the 309 passengers and crew on board survived, but there were many serious injuries.

Daniel-Robert Gooch, president of the Canadian Airports Council, said they see the need for the increased stopping areas, but the changes are coming at the worst possible time for airports.

“We’re not opposing the regulatory requirements. We’re just wondering how we’re going to be able to pay for it,” he said.

 It's a very bad situation

Some Canadian airports meet the higher standard already, but Gooch said when they did a survey of Canadian airports, the total cost was pegged at roughly $360 million, much of it at smaller facilities.

He said the upgrades are a major cost, but airports are dealing with bigger problems as passenger volumes and revenues have fallen off a cliff during the pandemic.

“It’s a very bad situation. Airports are basically borrowing to get through the crisis. They’re going through their cash reserves.”

Most of Canada’s airports operate as not-for-profits and Gooch said they don’t have any extra revenues, so they will have to consider increasing airport improvement fees and other charges passengers pay.

“If we don’t get any support from government, airports are gonna have to raise the rates, just to cover the additional debt and the interest payments.”

The Ottawa airport has already made a move proposing to increase its airport improvement fee from $23 to $28 effective Oct. 1.

Winnipeg airport is also hiking its fee to $38 on Sept. 1, up from $25. The fees are charged to every passenger arriving at the airport. Even with the added fee, Winnipeg expects to see a nearly $30 million loss this year.

Gooch said he expects other airports will have to follow if there isn’t some manner of federal support. The government has waived the rent it charges to airport operators, but Gooch said that is based on revenue, which has virtually disappeared this year as most flights have been grounded due to the pandemic.

He said it’s like a hotel forced to close most of its rooms and getting to keep the tax on the few ones it can book.

Gooch said delaying the runway upgrades isn’t a real option, because it will take four or five years for air travel to return to pre-pandemic levels and the work needs to be done.

After the Air France crash, the Transportation Safety Board’s investigation, recommended Canada extend the overshoot area at major airport runways to 300 metres, a recommendation it repeated in several other crashes.

But it wasn’t until this year that Transportation Canada finally indicated it would recommend improvements, with a proposal to require the overshoots be at least 150 metres long, half of what was recommended by the TSB.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s press secretary Livia Belcea said the Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s press secretary Livia Belcea said the government is taking feedback from airports before it moves ahead and will take COVID-19 into account.

“Transport Canada will review comments received and policy, while considering the impact of COVID-19 prior to moving forward with final regulations. Transport Canada will remain engaged with impacted airports on the eventual implementation of the new requirements,” she said.

Belcea said when the final rules are decided on, airports will have two years to bring their runways up to the new standard.

The standard will force some airports that don’t currently meet the rules, to extend the emergency stopping areas, which don’t have to be paved, but do have to be flat and clear of obstacles. They can also shorten runways or put in special arrestor materials that slow out of control planes down.

 Airports are basically borrowing to get through the crisis

Toronto’s Billy Bishop airport may have the biggest challenge in meeting these requirements, because the island airport doesn’t have enough extra land to meet the new rules.

Jessica Pellerin, a spokesperson for Ports Toronto, the agency that oversees Billy Bishop said right now they’re focused on ensuring the airport is ready for when the pandemic ends.

“Over the past few months, our focus has been on ensuring that Billy Bishop Airport emerges from the pandemic in a strong position,” she said.

The airport’s master plan released last year discusses three potential scenarios. It considers an arrestor system, but notes only one company in North America is making the systems. The plan also says using part of the existing runway would limit the type of planes that could use the airport.

The third option the airport has identified would be to physically extend the runway by adding more land to the existing island, but the airport notes it would be a major project and couldn’t be completed quickly.

Pellerin said nothing has been decided at this point.

“We will assess all options available to effectively implement RESA and ensure compliance with the new enhanced safety regulations as part of our unyielding commitment to safety.”

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I hope the airports firstly take a good look at the cosmetic budgeted upgrades (water falls, works of art, etc) that were planned prior to the pandemic and cancel them and use that money instead. 

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Gold plated palaces built on excessive fees yet with inadequate operational facilities.

Tear down the entire system in Canada and start again with something that makes sense and brings real value to the operators and customers.

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11 hours ago, j.k. said:

Gold plated palaces built on excessive fees yet with inadequate operational facilities.

Tear down the entire system in Canada and start again with something that makes sense and brings real value to the operators and customers.

Agree 1000%.  The word "Empire" comes to mind.

 

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23 minutes ago, Marshall said:

Do we really need mega airports with mega shopping, mega dining, floors with enlays etc?  

I inclined to say no but where do you want to be when there's a Snowstorm or August thunderstorms and you have to wait for hours on end for a flight. 

I'm also puzzled as to why the airports here in canada with those mega malls charge such high passenger fees - shouldn't they be lower with all that ancillary revenue they get?

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11 minutes ago, Specs said:

I inclined to say no but where do you want to be when there's a Snowstorm or August thunderstorms and you have to wait for hours on end for a flight. 

I'm also puzzled as to why the airports here in canada with those mega malls charge such high passenger fees - shouldn't they be lower with all that ancillary revenue they get?

Me too re high fees but re snowstorms etc.   you might be caught 1 or 2 times a year vs using an overbuilt entertainment / dining airport more often and paying through the nose (AEF) every  time you visited.

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I’m not a pilot.  But I’m guessing those of you who are could list off dozens of safety and airfield improvements to all the Canadian airports - that you’d each take over a damn waterfall or ridiculous art crap.  And maybe I’m not Joe Public. But I’d rather you get what you need vs the nonsense we get now.

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