May 17, 2022

Canadian Chamber lays out three priorities to help air travel and airports grow at House Transport Committee

On May 16, 2022, Robin Guy, the Canadian Chamber’s Senior Director, Transportation, Infrastructure & Regulatory Policy, appeared at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to address its study on ways to reduce red tape and costs on rural and urban Canadian airports to make air travel more affordable and accessible.

Guy spoke to the devastating impacts of COVID on the travel and tourism sector and laid out three priority areas for the government to address to help the sector recover from COVID and return to growth. The priorities are to review and remove legacy COVID-era regulations that are no longer necessary; investing in airport infrastructure and technology; and, developing an overall vision to improve passenger experiences.

Robin Guy’s opening remarks:
Check against delivery.

Chair and Honourable members, it is a pleasure to be appearing at this Committee for the first time. 

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce welcomes the opportunity to provide comment on the Committee’s study on ways to reduce red tape and costs on Canadian airports to make air travel more affordable and accessible.

The Canadian aviation and tourism industries have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The myriad of public measures taken to dramatically stem the transmission of the virus has resulted in a decline of travel by approximately 95% of 2019 levels.

The protracted pandemic will result in Canada’s airports losing more than $4.6 billion in revenue in 2020/21 and adding $3 billion in debt to stay open and maintain safe and secure operations. The impact of the pandemic on travel and tourism is greater than 9/11; SARS and the 2008 financial crisis combined.

Prior to the pandemic, the impact of Canada’s airports on a national scale is major for economic development of communities and regions across Canada. In 2016, Canadian airports directly contributed $48 billion in economic output, $19 billion in GDP, 194,000 jobs, and $13 billion in wages. Airports’ economic contributions are impressive, but even more impressive is their importance in supporting and enhancing opportunities for all Canadians and Canadian businesses.

As one of the most impacted sectors, the government’s support to the sector during the pandemic was a lifeline that was much needed. As restrictions have eased, many challenges highlighted by the pandemic must be carefully examined to ensure the sector can continue to contribute to growing Canada’s economy. The government must work with the industry to address the challenges the sector faces as it rebuilds itself post-pandemic.

In the time available, allow me to focus on a few points in the areas the committee has identified as points of interest.

Firstly, on regulation.

The government must review all regulations introduced during the pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, many new regulations were introduced in the spirit of public health. However, with high vaccination rates and an easing to many public heath measures, some of these legacy pandemic regulations are outdated and are no longer required.

Our airports across the country – especially in major hubs like Toronto, and Vancouver – are currently faced with security staff shortages. We are also seeing a massive delays in processing passports and Nexus, which are being felt across our transportation system. These are costing our economy deeply, and are hurting our international reputation as a top destination for tourism, international conferences and sporting events.

The responsible thing to do is for the government to undertake a full review of these regulations and remove those that no longer required.

Secondly, we need to ensure that our airports are able to operate in a post-COVID world, which means investing in their health. More specifically, investments in our airports infrastructure and technology and innovation.

Low traffic volumes over the last two years have meant airports have had to delay much needed capital projects as revenues have declined.

Programs, including the Airport Capital Assistance Program and the Airport Critical Infrastructure Program have been extremely important programs that have been critical for Canada’s airports during the pandemic. As the sector looks to come out of the pandemic, it is imperative that these programs are renewed.

The Government of Canada should reconsider its decision to merely defer 2021 airport rent paid by all airports and instead provide a full waiver of rent until travel numbers have stabilized given the declining circumstances faced by airports and would allow them to re-examine key infrastructure upgrades. By agreeing to this, government will allow our airports to focus on capital investments on much needed new infrastructure and innovations.

Lastly, while our airports have started to open, the sector is far from recovered. Recognizing the importance of the travel and tourism sector to the national economy, the government must work with the sector on a vision towards recovery.

We must look to creative and better ways to increase the passenger experience and make travel more affordable and accessible. We need to ensure as best as possible, that passengers have a seamless experience from couch to cabin; check-in to arrival at Canada’s airports. The committee should examine what other jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom, European Union and Australia are doing with this regard to ensure Canada’s rules and regulations are strengthening our transportation system.

For example, the trusted traveller program has been successful at facilitating faster travel for low risk individuals. Canada has not taken advantage of this program to the same degree as our partners to the south. In the US, TSA Pre-Check is a way pre-cleared travellers to navigate security faster, reducing bottlenecks at security check points while continuing to keep our country safe. These simple methods are ways to promote a better experience for all users. And there are opportunities to grow these programs at the different airports across Canada.

Thank you again for the opportunity to address the Committee and I look forward to your questions.

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