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Airport projects positive outlook despite negative COVID-19 impacts

Canadian Rockies International Airport is weathering the storm of COVID-19, aggressively managing their budget to offset the drastic decline in passengers over the past number of months.

At the height of COVID-19 in April and May, Candian Rockies International Airport (YXC) saw a 98% drop in ridership as compared to 2019. However, the airport expects to break even at the end of 2020 and operate in the green.

“With some extreme measures of our budget management, we’re doing all we can in spite of the impacts to come out the year neutral,” Tristen Chernove told MyEastKootenayNow.com, Manager of Canadian Rockies International Airport. “We have been able to take measures to not come out of the year at a loss but we’re having to scale back on many of the capital projects and other things at the airport.”

Chernove said they are continuing projects that were either already started prior to the COVID-19 pandemic or projects that are imperative to health and safety. YXC’s 2020 Capital Plan previously included $1.7-million in projects, but now only $353,380 in projects will proceed.

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  • ATB HVAC Upgrades – $300,000
    • Implement HVAC upgrades based on recommendations from the 2019 energy audit. The report was received in the Summer of 2019. The project will result in long-term cost savings. The construction tender document is 90% complete.
  • Condition Assessment of Airfield Lighting – $30,000
    • Assessment required for future capital projects. Assess the condition of airfield lighting cabling and transformers to determine the scope and timing of repairs (currently planned for 2022). Project underway with anticipated completion in August.
  • Airport Wildlife Management Plan – $9,000
    • Review and update of Wildlife Management Plan by a qualified biologist. The project is necessary to comply with regulations and safety best practices. PO is issued and the project is 50% complete.
  • Obstacle Limitation Surfaces (OLS) Survey – $6,380
    • New Obstacle Limitation Surfaces survey required to comply with regulations. Was originally budgeted for 2023 but is required sooner due to the outcome of the last OLS survey. PO is issued and will begin in Summer 2020.
  • Airport Parking Machines (Debit Card Reader Update) – $8,000
    • This project will update the existing parking machines with debit card readers including contactless functionality. The update will significantly improve customer service and was already underway prior to COVID-19. Machines are in the process of being updated.

“We’re always trying to adjust according to what the passenger needs are at the airport and with travel being way down many of the projects that were basically in response to increased passenger utilization can now be pushed back a few years, or hopefully maybe less if things pick up more steadily,” noted Chernove.

With their adjustments to the budget, YXC is predicting revenues to be 42% below budget and expenses to be 16% under budget. Despite the difference in figures, Chernove said they are not currently projected to operate at a loss. However, the predictions are based on YXC seeing a 60% resumption of service by December 2020 and does not take into account a potential second wave of COVID-19, which would assure another major impact to the air traffic industry.

Throughout COVID-19, WestJet has continued to fly its route from Calgary to Cranbrook. Pacific Coastal Airlines began offering flights to Kelowna as of June 1st and will be offering flights to Vancouver when they resume service on Sunday, July 5th. As per booking sites, Chernove said Air Canada and WestJet could both reinstate their Vancouver flights by early August. Despite the delay from WestJet and Air Canada, Chernove said YXC will have flights to all three of its major hubs by Sunday (Calgary, Kelowna, Vancouver), which can’t be said of many other airports in the current COVID-19 climate.

“We’re extremely fortunate in that being the primary airport for the southeastern corner of British Columbia, that we’re the only airport in the whole region that has an instrument landing system with the capacity of ours,” Chernove told MyEastKootenayNow.com. “With all of the growth that we’ve seen over the years of the increased passenger demands, fortunately, we’ve become a pretty key partner with the airlines. With that, there’s a good history that has demonstrated that while they may have to take a loss at some point to keep operating, they know that we have great ridership in this region and the world is discovering us as a tourism destination more and more every year as well. We’ve become a really important market.”

Chernove fully anticipates domestic air traffic will recover quicker than international travel. Even with the large drop off in travel, YXC is still seeing essential travel come through the airport and is optimistic that passenger confidence will see an uptick in flight capacity.

“We are doing everything possible to be a safe travel mechanism as possible and the airlines are doing great things. I just encourage everybody to do their research before they make assumptions,” said Chernove. Air travel is responding in a way that I think is very good to what is going on and I think that there can be a lot of public trust in what’s happening with the slow re-establishment.”

MORE: Airport Update to City Council (City of Cranbrook)

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