Flair Airlines CEO Jim Scott is pictured at the Edmonton International Airport, in Edmonton on Thursday March 5, 2020. As the federal government gears up to roll out relief measures for hard-hit industries, smaller airlines worry they’ll be left out of the largesse. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Flair Airlines CEO Jim Scott is pictured at the Edmonton International Airport, in Edmonton on Thursday March 5, 2020. As the federal government gears up to roll out relief measures for hard-hit industries, smaller airlines worry they’ll be left out of the largesse. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Struggling smaller airlines worry federal aid may come too late, if at all

Small carriers worry they may not qualify for the recently announced bailout

As the federal government gears up to deliver relief measures for hard-hit industries, smaller airlines worry they’ll be left out.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that federal financing will be available to the country’s largest employers to help weather the COVID-19 economic crisis. Loans will start at $60 million for companies with at least $300 million in annual revenues.

Regional carriers, most of which fall far short of that threshold, fear they might go under without a tailor-made support program from Ottawa as border shutdowns and the collapse of global travel continue to choke off demand.

Flair Airlines, an ultra-low-cost carrier based in Edmonton, has reduced its commercial fleet to one airplane since late March. The flight schedule — 16 trips per week — stands at 10 per cent of pre-coronavirus levels after the company lost 95 per cent of its revenue in nine days, CEO Jim Scott said.

“We need a federal airline support package that does not select winners and losers but demonstrates a commitment to a diversified and competitive airline industry accessible to all Canadians,” Scott said in a statement last week.

He cautioned against a bailout that would reinforce a “David and Goliath system dominated by a large-carrier duopoly.”

The $300-million threshold rules out about three-quarters of Canadian airlines from the new relief program, said John McKenna, president of the Air Transportation Association of Canada, which counts 30 smaller carriers as members.

“The outlying communities, the northern communities, they rely on these regional carriers as a lifeline,” McKenna said. “I am happy for the seven or so carriers in Canada who may qualify (but) the government must not forget that the regional carriers offer just as important a service as the large carriers.”

READ MORE: Feds pledge aid, financing for large and medium sized businesses affected by COVID-19

A federal aid package for the territories includes $17 million for northern airlines to help fly food and medical supplies to remote communities. Far-flung areas south of the 60th parallel, such as northwestern Ontario and Nunavik in Quebec, are not covered.

“We want the government of Canada to come out with a plan that treats everyone equitably but fairly,” McKenna said.

Part of the anxiety stems from a lack of feedback, with “radio silence” from Ottawa.

“There’s not even any dialogue with the government. We have no idea what they’re doing,” he said. “When we talk to finance, they say, ‘Something’s coming, we can’t talk about it.”

McKenna has asked the government for $2 billion in loans and loan guarantees for smaller carriers and maintenance and repair operators.

In a letter sent to the prime minister Friday, his association and a dozen other groups including the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC) — which represents Air Canada, WestJet and Transat — requested relief from various taxes, fees and charges, on top of financial support.

Mike McNaney, head of the NACC, thanked Ottawa on Monday for addressing the “urgent liquidity challenges facing airlines,” but said he needed more details around “timelines and process.”

Most large airlines said it was too early to comment as they review the fine print, though Sunwing applauded the announcement and said it “shows that government has been listening.”

Strings attached to the bridge financing require companies to have already gone unsuccessfully to the banks or the market and demand that recipients open themselves to financial scrutiny and prove their commitment to fighting climate change.

The federal government has also waived the monthly rent paid by airport authorities to Ottawa for the rest of the year, providing support worth up to $331.4 million in ground lease rents from March through December.

At least 20 countries from Norway to New Zealand have announced financial aid specifically for airlines, ranging from equity stakes to loans and grants, sometimes with strings attached that limit dividends and executive bonuses.

Last month the United States rolled out US$25 billion in government aid to pay airline workers and avoid massive layoffs. The assistance includes a mix of cash and loans, with the government getting warrants that can be converted into small ownership stakes in the leading carriers.

The French government has announced at least US$7.66 billion in loans and loan guarantees to rescue Air France, with conditions requiring it to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 on long and medium-haul routes.

READ MORE: Vancouver airport to lay off 25% of staff as it forecasts years-long decrease in flights

In Germany, the government is in talks with Lufthansa AG for up to US$10.85 billion in aid but demanding a 25 per cent stake in the airline.

Even with planes parked, money continues to bleed as airlines dole out airport fees, leasing payments, and parking and maintenance costs — each plane needs to have its engine run, tires rotated and hydraulics electronics checked multiple times per week.

“We’re a capital intensive industry,” Flair’s Jim Scott said in a phone interview. “Our fixed costs are very high, and we have no revenues to offset it.”

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Air TravelCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The West Kootenay Timberwolves received $1535 in relief funding. Photo: Submitted
Three Rossland sports groups receive provincial funding

28 sports groups across the Kootenay will be receiving money from the Local Sport Relief Fund

Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union president Andy Davidoff. Photo: Jennifer Small
An open letter to Premier Horgan and Minister Whiteside: Let’s stop harming our children during a pandemic

A letter from Andrew Davidoff, President Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union

Interior Health reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 and two new death in the region Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
79 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths reported in Interior Health

Both of Friday’s deaths were both recorded at long-term care homes

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

KBFR
Driver taken to hospital after hitting ditch near Genelle

Kootenay Boundary first responders attend single vehicle accident, RCMP investigate

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Kimberly Proctor, 18, was murdered in 2010. Her family has spent many of the years since pushing for a law in her honour, that they say would help to prevent similar tragedies. (Courtesy of Jo-Anne Landolt)
Proposed law honouring murdered B.C. teen at a standstill, lacks government support

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has concerns with involuntary detainment portion of act

Sunnybank in Oliver. (Google Maps)
Sunnybank long-term care in Oliver reports third COVID-19 death

The facility currently has an outbreak with 35 cases attached to it

Most Read