Passenger traffic numbers continue to nosedive at Winnipeg airport

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More than a year after the global COVID-19 pandemic was declared, the amount of passenger traffic at Winnipeg’s James Armstrong Richardson International Airport continues to see a decline, according to the Winnipeg Airports Authority (WAA).

The WAA released its first-quarter report for 2021 on Monday which shows the impact the pandemic has had on air travel.

For the first quarter of 2021, the airport reported an 88.7 per cent decline in the number of passengers moving through the airport compared to the same period in 2020.

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and a day later Manitoba reported its first case of COVID-19.

During the first quarter of 2020, the federal government introduced new travel rules, which included only allowing planes to arrive at four airports in Canada; Winnipeg was not among the airports.

As a result, the revenue for the first quarter of 2021 for the WAA was $10.9 million, down for $31.3 million the year before during the same quarter.

“What it’s really reflecting is the impact of the increased or continued regulations around air transportation in this quarter,” said Barry Rempel, president and CEO of WAA. “I’ll say some of them are because of the third wave considerations.”

Rempel said the people travelling through Winnipeg are not those travelling for leisure, but essential workers.

The WAA said it was required to secure a $100 million bond to help with airport operating costs due to the losses and “minimal” government aid for the airport, saying it was necessary to continue supporting the services that were being offered.

The WAA said there were some bright spots this quarter, noting the amount of cargo landing at the airport was up 7.5 per cent compared to the same time last year.

“It’s the one bright light of what has been going on in our local economy, and much of that has truly been shifts in the supply chain,” Rempel said, noting people ordering through Amazon, and the way companies are ordering items as well, resulted in the increase.

The organization adds it is looking ahead to when airlines will start returning to Winnipeg, noting Flair and Swoop are both planning to restore service to Winnipeg later in 2021.

Rempel said on Sunday the WAA saw the highest level of passenger traffic since the pandemic started, with 653 passengers going through the airport. He said the return of Swoop to Winnipeg that weekend led to the increase.

“That, to me, was one of the first indications, I guess, of the positive outlooks the carriers have,” he said.

Rempel said he believes some semblance of normalcy will return to the airport in August or September, based on the vaccine rollout and the end of the pandemic’s third wave.