Travel tailspin grounds YVR ambitions

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The decision to cancel the Vancouver International Airport’s multimillion-dollar expansion was not difficult.

It was unavoidable. The global economy made it so; the COVID-19 crisis made it so.

The pandemic will soon dictate the answers to additional difficult decisions that YVR and airports all over North America are facing, depending on its trajectory and any progress made in slowing its spread.

With travel and tourism staggering under the impact of the coronavirus crisis, the airport business is a shadow of its pre-2020 self.

Airports Council International (ACI) numbers tell that tale.

The global airport sector faces a 5.6 billion passenger decrease, a US$105 billion revenue drop and an overall US$22 billion net loss, and that is just this year.

The horizon has nothing but severe thunderclouds ahead.

That is not just very bad news for airports. It is very bad news for the companies and workers whose businesses are connected with the aviation industry.

The ACI notes, for example, that a typical airport hub employs around 40,000 people.

The impact of a protracted pandemic and continued travel restrictions will therefore have a devastating effect far beyond airport infrastructure improvement projects like the one now on hold at YVR.

But there are some glimmers of hope in the air.

Air cargo, for example, has risen sharply during the pandemic.

The ACI also has a plan to stabilize airport operations and seed eventual business recovery.

It includes a push for government stimulus, but it also wants relief from what it sees as an onerous tax burden borne by international aviation and the upwardly spiralling travel fees, levies and airport taxes borne by passengers.

Reducing either or both of the latter is another decision that might be more in the hands of the pandemic than governments or airport authorities.