As aviation and travel industry workers marched on Parliament Hill outside, Canada’s federal officials were fielding questions about helping Canada’s struggling aviation industry inside.
Speaking to reporters on Tues. (Oct 20) in Ottawa, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said that the Canadian government is looking closely at a financial aid package that would help Canada’s airlines amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are obviously aware of the particular challenges that the travel sector, the airlines are facing right now,” she told a news conference when asked if whether or not the government would introduce an aid package. “It’s definitely an issue we are looking at closely and working on.”
Freeland didn’t go into specifics, however, she noted how Canada’s airlines have already accessed more than $1 billion (US$763 million) of financial assistance courtesy of the wage subsidy program that Ottawa introduced in the spring.
Freeland also suggested that air carriers should apply to the government’s loan program for large employers – the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF), announced in May, which provides a loan of at least $60 million to Canadian employers with annual revenues of more than $300 million and whose financial needs during COVID-19 are not being met through traditional financing.
These LEEFF loans, however, are expensive, as critics have pointed out.
Starting with an interest rate of five per cent, then rising to eight per cent the following year, the concern is that companies, airlines included, may not be able to stomach the debt.
“It’s expensive money,” John Gradek, a former Air Canada executive who is now a faculty lecturer and program co-ordinator in aviation leadership at McGill University, told The Star. “That’s been (airlines’) major concern with applying for LEEFF — the cost of the program is much more than what the market would normally charge for those types of loans.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also fielded questions on Tuesday from journalists about the government’s plan to help airlines.
Trudeau, too, referenced Canada’s wage subsidy program and how it has already served the aviation sector in keeping workers on the payroll.
The Prime Minister, however, suggested that his government is looking at more ways to help the airline industry.
“It has been significant and important to keep these airlines going,” said Trudeau. “We recognize how challenging this pandemic is on travel and our aerospace industry in general. That is why we’re looking for more ways to support workers, innovators and businesses affected by this COVID-19 pandemic.”
Trudeau’s comments unfolded as nearly 250 aviation and travel industry workers marched the Parliament grounds outside with protest signs and cheers, taking aim at the government’s response (or lack thereof) to restarting air travel in a safe and responsible way.
(PAX covered the march on location and captured many photos and videos, which you can view here).
“This walk is open to the entire tourism industry because we are all interconnected,” march co-organizer Lisa Kampis, a flight director at Air Transat, told PAX at the event. “I am both happy and sad to see my colleagues protesting today. We are entering a second wave and everything is still closed. Last April, airlines predicted the revival would take place in late fall, at the start of peak tourism season. This is not the case today.”
The group was demanding the government do more to kickstart global aviation, such as granting special financial assistance to the aviation sector, setting up rapid COVID-19 testing at airports, and creating travel corridors with countries that have low case counts of COVID-19.
“The pandemic is here to stay,” said Kampis. “We need to find alternative strategies to make global tourism work again."
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