Keeping Essential Workers and Goods Moving by Air Today and Tomorrow

Jarred Cohen is the Policy Advisor at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

The effects of COVID-19 are being felt around the world in all industries, and airports are no exception. With commercial flights slashed by 90 percent or more, and some airlines temporarily halting all service, it at first it may appear that airports have become redundant.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Although airports are serving only a small fraction of their usual numbers of customers, they are perhaps even more important than ever, supporting the delivery of essential services, personnel and supplies to communities across the country.

Supply chains are in flux and with a critical need for the rapid delivery of medical goods, including protective gear and drug components, governments and private sector alike have pivoted some of their most urgent deliveries to aviation, with literally hundreds if not thousands, of tonnes of overseas goods being flown in to Canada. 

Though there are fewer people at airports, the work is still intense. Airports must maintain their same high operational safety standards: keeping surfaces clean and people healthy, including those  who work at the airport, including airport staff, airline crews, baggage and cargo handlers, security and border officers, air traffic controllers, retail and restaurant workers and emergency responders like police and firefighters.  They are all part of the airport ecosystem.

“While vacations and business travel may have ended, airports remain open to support movement of goods, people, medevac and other essential services.´ notes Canadian Airports Council president, Daniel-Robert Gooch. “As we think about how to move out of this crisis, keeping all the major parts of the air transport ecosystem healthy and strong will be a key to our recovery once we begin to reopen the economy.”  

The tourism industry in Canada – which includes travel for both business and pleasure – is a $102-billion-dollar sector, supporting 1.8 million Canadian jobs – 194,000 of them at airports.  With over 160 million Canadians travelling by air in 2019, airports themselves are critical to the traveller experience, ensuring that the best processes, facilities and technologies are in place to contribute to a safe and comfortable trip.  Airports are community assets:  they are catalysts for economic opportunity, enabling trade, improving business productivity and supply chain performance and supporting local employment.

Through the efforts of the Canadian Airports Council and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Travel, Tourism, and Hospitality Working Group, Canada’s airports are working with government, airlines, the international airport community, and the business community to ensure they have the right tools and support to play their part in reopening and rebuilding the economy.  

While airports continue to prioritize the health and safety of travellers and employees, they are also looking to the future, taking steps to ensure that people feel comfortable resuming travel, and that their facilities and staff are ready with the appropriate training and practices to handle increased numbers of travellers when the restrictions are lifted. 

Governments are working closely with businesses to protect the Canadian economy and jobs. This level and intensity of collaboration must continue as we ease up on restrictions and work collectively to get the economy – and people – moving again.

– Jarred Cohen