Passengers disembark from WestJet’s first-ever flight into Cranbrook. File photo by BLACK PRESS news services

Airport manager updates city council on COVID-19 impacts

While the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated domestic and international air travel across the country and the world, there is reason for optimism for operations out at the Canadian Rockies International Airport.

Year-to-date operating revenues are 27 per cent below budget, while year-end revenue is expected to be 42 per cent below budget, according to Tristen Chernove, the CEO of Elevate Airports, which manages the CRIA. The revenue analysis is predicated on a smooth resumption of service to 60 per cent of the 2020 budget by December, provided there isn’t a second COVID-19 wave that forces additional collapse of air service, he added.

“The positive side of this is that this current budget and the current stance of things, I’m very happy to say, does not result in an operating loss,” he said. “Which, again, I can’t reiterate enough of how unique of a situation that is for us here compared to airports of our size across the country and I”m very, very happy we’re in that position.”

Year-to-date operating expenses are 20 per cent under budget and projected to be 16 per cent under budget at year end.

The capital projects budget was reduced from $1.7 million to $353,380 due to the current economic climate and a five-year capital plan was revised to match re-calibrated passenger demand.

Some capital projects moving forward include an airport wildlife management plan, HVAC upgrades which will result in long-term cost savings, debit card reading updates for airport pay parking machines and assessing the condition of airfield lighting, cabling and transformers to determine scope and timing of repairs.

Chernove noted that the airport is starting to see some sustained levels of service for essential travel as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease.

Pacific Coastal Airlines will be resuming daily flights to Vancouver starting in early July, while the same airline has been flying from Cranbrook to Kelowna since the beginning of June. WestJet has also been running flights to Calgary once a day, three days a week since then.

Both WestJet and Air Canada are expected to resume flights to Vancouver by August, based on the ability to book tickets online through those companies, according to Chernove.

“We will see the rebounding of regional markets long before we see much international, so for our market, that’s sort of good news,” Chernove said. “Domestically, it’s anticipated that we’ll see, lets say, by July 5th, a resumption of at least some level of service to all of our pre-COVID markets, so that’s Kelowna, Vancouver and Calgary.

“Mind you, that’s on a very reduced capacity, but at least daily service.”

Passenger traffic, as of May 31, is down 41 per cent under budget and 49 per cent below the previous year. Year-end passenger numbers are expected to be 53 per cent under budget, according to Chernove.

The numbers are stark, once the travel restrictions hit in April and May, as passenger counts went from an average of 14,000 from last year to a few hundred this year in both those same months — a 98 per cent variance.

Nav Canada, which provides air traffic control, airport advisory services, weather briefings and more for Canadian domestic and international airspace, suspended overnight services at the Canadian Rockies International Airport in the beginning of May, along with other airports across the country.

However, Chernove says the airport can still operate 24 hours a day if he is notified ahead of time, citing an example of being able to turn on airfield lighting controls to accommodate an air ambulance flight arriving in the middle of the night in the case of a medical emergency.

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