Crippled by COVID-19, Canada’s airline industry says it’s plummeting into insurmountable debt as planes sit idle and people cancel or postpone travel plans.
Behind the scenes, major airlines are pressing the federal government for an aid package to help them survive the pandemic and quickly recover when countries finally lift their travel restrictions.
“The carriers are burning through cash,” said Mike McNaney, the president of the National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents Air Canada, Air Transat and WestJet.
“The industry will not be able to get out of this challenge unless there’s government assistance.”
Heading into the pandemic, some of Canada’s large airlines were riding a financial high. But COVID-19 brought international travel to a halt, something the sector has never experienced before.
Some airlines stopped flying altogether. Others, such as Air Canada, scaled back operations by more than 90 per cent because of the unprecedented drop in demand.
Thousands of planes now sit parked across the country, costing air carriers tens of millions of dollars daily. And there’s no end in sight, said McNaney.
Airlines have been tapping into Canada’s wage subsidy program to hire back thousands of laid-off workers, but say they need an infusion of cash, loans and a freeze on taxes and fees to prop up the industry.
A consumer group warns that if a taxpayer bailout is on the way, it should come with strings attached banning airlines from paying executive bonuses and requiring them to reimburse consumers for cancelled flights during the pandemic.
Parked planes with big bills
Planes worth $10 billion are parked at airports across Canada, bleeding money, said McNaney. He added he’s “astounded” that 90 per cent of the market is gone.
Most airlines finance the purchase of their aircraft, which can cost more than $100 million each. The engines themselves are so expensive that they’re sometimes paid off separately, said John McKenna, president of the Air Transportation Association of Canada, which represents carriers like Porter and Sunwing Airlines.
“It’s been a catastrophe,” said McKenna. “Everyone is hurting. We are a capital intensive industry.
“Planes cost tens or sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars. For them to be profitable they have to be flying all the time. Sitting there, you still have to insure them, maintain them, and you have to pay for them.
“You’re not generating any money from them. You’re just losing it.”
Complicated process to restart industry
Sunwing’s president Mark Williams said some companies are managing their financial losses but won’t be able to sustain it for months on end.
“There isn’t a sector that’s been more impacted by this,” said Williams on Thursday at a virtual Canadian Club Toronto event. “We’re really looking for liquidity.
“It’s not reasonable to expect that any airline in Canada can go on like this for six months without getting some sort of financial support from the government.”
A vice president at Air Canada recently said he anticipates air travel will resume worldwide by Christmas. But without federal aid, McNaney said, it will be a struggle for airlines to ramp up quickly.
“It’s going to be a very complicated process to restart aviation,” he said. “We’ve never seen 90 per cent of capacity parked at one point in time.
“That’s like trying to walk out into a parking lot after a [hockey] game with 15,000 cars in the lot and none of them turn over because it’s too cold and their engines have all shut down. So you have to get all those cars ramped up and ready to roll. Then you have to find your way out to the parking lot.”
McNaney said the government needs to stabilize the airline industry so it can start working out the logistics of re-starting with air carriers, staff and government agencies. The longer they wait, the tougher that process will be, he said.
McNaney added that the airline and tourism industries are key to rebuilding Canada’s economy.
Government evaluating ‘all options’
A month ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he recognized the industry has been hit “extremely” hard and that help was on the way.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau has waived airport authorities’ rent fees, worth an estimated $331 million. The government is giving $17 million to Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut to help airlines flying essential goods to remote northern communities.
Morneau’s office said the government is still evaluating “all options to support the industry.”
“We have been in touch with airlines and we understand the impact COVID-19 is having on their industry and we are with the workers who are facing a difficult situation in these unprecedented times,” said spokesperson Maéva Proteau in a statement to CBC News.
Williams said talks continue with the government to come up with an equitable solution so that all companies — big and small — receive help.
“The government shouldn’t be picking winners or losers here,” he said. “They need to support the industry as a whole.”
Europe, U.S. promising bailouts
Some European nations and the U.S. have agreed already to bailouts. France and the Netherlands are providing a 10-billion-euro taxpayer-funded bailout to save Air France-KLM.
The Trump administration agreed to a $25 billion bailout to prop up its airline industry. Canada’s industry is roughly ten times smaller than the American one. Some Canadian pilot and airline associations have told CBC News a $5 billion bailout from the federal government would be reasonable.
But airlines have been hesitant to put a price tag on damage that’s still unfolding, and have not offered a number to the federal government.
Customers should be reimbursed, says consumer group
If Canada does announce a bailout, some argue there should be strict criteria to ensure taxpayer money isn’t misused.
John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said Ottawa should focus on “making sure companies couldn’t skim off excess profits through the bailout by giving their dividends out to their shareholders with that money, or giving large executive bonuses.
“These sorts of things should be prohibited.”
Lawford said the government also should make it mandatory for airlines to use some of the government aid package to reimburse customers for flights cancelled due to the pandemic.
During the pandemic, the Canadian Transportation Agency suspended new passenger protection regulations that would have made it mandatory for airlines to compensate passengers. The CTA later backed away from those statements, but airlines continue to face criticism for providing vouchers rather than refunds.
“It’s a large expense for the average consumer,” said Lawford. “The $3,000 to $4,000 dollars for a large vacation you’ve been saving up for multiple years is a large cost for consumers to absorb.”
Some analysts have suggested that it could take more than five years for the airline sector to return to the same traffic it saw before COVID-19 hit.
Meet the 'forgotten Canadians' stranded in remote corners of the world demanding help to get home – CBC.ca
An Alberta woman is scared for her life in Peru as the death toll rises and the health-care system collapses around her.
A 75-year-old pensioner from Nova Scotia is stranded alone on the top of a mountain in a tiny village in Central America, with no way out.
A Montreal woman is living in a $7-a-day hotel room in the mountains of locked-down Nepal and told the local hospital ran out of necessities to help those with COVID-19.
They are the outliers: the last 10 per cent of Canadians stranded abroad who want to come home during a deadly, worldwide pandemic. But the Canadian government may not be able to repatriate them all because of the complexity of their cases.
“It’s a possible death sentence for a lot of Canadian citizens and residents in Peru,” Ana Nehring, the Alberta woman, told CBC News from Lima. “We need to be rescued. We need to get out of here.”
Ottawa is down to its final push to retrieve Canadians, with over 40,681 already repatriated from 107 countries on 378 flights since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
But the federal government said these last cases are often the most difficult and unusual. In some countries, there aren’t enough Canadians to send an entire plane. In others, repatriation flights are barred from entering. Instead, consular services is helping some citizens hunker down until countries reopen.
But some of those stranded say they are in precarious situations and want Canada to find a way to get them home quickly.
“We are working to help as many Canadians as possible return home, but some may remain outside the country for an indeterminate period,” Angela Savard, a spokesperson with Global Affairs, said in a statement to CBC News.
Stuck in Peru: Ana Nehring, Lise Blais
Nehring flew to Peru on March 3 to rush to her mother’s side after she suffered a stroke. She’s an only child and needed to find her mother a long-term care facility to live in.
But two weeks later, Peru entered a lockdown that closed its borders to international travel. It’s been three months and Nehring is still stuck in Lima.
She says the country is struggling to control its outbreak and all she wants to do is get home to St. Albert, Alta.
According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, Peru has more than 160,000 confirmed cases, tenth-most in the world, with more than 4,500 deaths.
“We need more help,” Nehring said. “I’m scared. We should not be here. The numbers are growing very rapidly….There are a lot of people dying.”
She tried to land a spot on one of Canada’s nine repatriation flights out, but all the seats were taken. Global Affairs told CBC News that it brought more than 2,650 citizens back to Canada on those planes. But it ended the efforts in mid-April because the Peruvian government stopped allowing repatriation flights into the country.
Nehring wants the government to send a military aircraft to pick up a group of roughly 200 Canadians, according to a Facebook group’s tally, who want to leave Peru. She says the streets are filled with military and police. She’s haunted by seeing a dead body on the ground on the way to the grocery store, but can’t say for sure if it was related to COVID-19.
Lise Blais is also in Lima and worried about catching COVID-19 as the number of cases climb. She’s trying to get home to Montreal and says she’s been stuck inside the same four walls since March 16. Blais wants to get back home to her son and grandchildren.
“Life is very difficult,” said Blais. I’m really scared to death.
“It’s so stressful. I’m losing my appetite. I don’t sleep well. It’s like a permanent nightmare. Living and waiting, it’s really terrible. Enough to make stomach ulcers.”
WATCH | Lise Blais, stranded in Peru, says, ‘The waiting is killing me’
Stranded in Costa Rica: Maxine Bruce
Maxine Bruce is a 75-year-old Canadian snowbird stuck in Costa Rica. She’s been hauling her groceries two kilometres up a mountain, because she won’t get in a taxi due to the pandemic. She’s walking even further to try to scour the nearby village of Santa Maria de Dota for supplies and medications she’s run out of.
Bruce says she’s trying to get home to the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia to help her brother who has early onset dementia. But for some reason, she says, Global Affairs Canada thinks she’s in another Central American country. She says the government has been sending her a “wealth of information applicable to Panama.”
The Canadian government has been “useless,” she said.
“We’re the forgotten Canadians stranded in these places. Basically they said it was my choice to travel so it’s down to me to get myself out of this mess.”
Trying to get out of Ecuador: David Robinson
David Robinson has spent the past year living on the ocean in Manta, Ecuador, as he had a medical procedure done to his foot. Now he wants to “get the hell out of Dodge,” but said Canada’s consular services told him the only way out is by a U.S.-chartered flight. Canada warned that even the American flights were ending soon.
He’s upset he was told to contact the U.S. Embassy for help.
“It’s maddening,” he said. “It’s literally disgusting. I’ve been paying taxes since I’ve been 15 and this is what they’re doing to me now: saying ‘whatever.'”
Hunkering down in Nepal: Catherine Breton
Catherine Breton has hunkered down in a cheap hotel with a small group of German and British tourists who are also stranded. She’s in Bandipur, a small village in the mountains in Nepal about an hour walk from a main road or a 12-hour bus ride from the capital, Kathmandu.
She was on a spiritual journey to study Buddhism when the pandemic hit. Breton said she couldn’t afford $4,000 for a spot on an earlier repatriation flight, so she waited thinking there would be other options. She learned the hard way that there aren’t.
“I’m getting scared,” she said. “There’s more and more cases.”
Nepal has more than 1,500 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The Canadian government offers a $5,000 emergency loan to people stranded abroad for “life-sustaining needs.” Robinson said she’s struggled to get out of debt before and had promised herself she’d never do it again, but realizes now she has no other choice but to take the money.
The local hospital told her they do not have ventilators and have run out of supplies needed to treat people with COVID-19. She says a Facebook group she’s part of lists more than 70 Canadians in Nepal who want to travel home. Yet she’s been told by consular support in India there aren’t enough people for a repatriation flight.
“I just don’t understand that,” she said. “They have the possibility to do it; I don’t know why they don’t.”
Anti-racism protest in downtown Montreal turns violent – CBC.ca
A Montreal anti-racism protest demanding justice for a black Minnesota man who died following a police intervention last week degenerated into clashes between police and some demonstrators on Sunday night.
The march had snaked its way through downtown Montreal on Sunday afternoon without incident, but Montreal police declared the gathering illegal about three hours after it began when they say projectiles were thrown at officers who responded with pepper spray and tear gas.
Tensions flared after the formal rally had concluded and some demonstrators made their way back to the starting point, in the shadow of Montreal police headquarters downtown.
Windows were smashed, fires were set and the situation slid into a game of cat-and-mouse between pockets of protesters and police trying to disperse them.
Demonstrators had gathered to denounce racist violence and police impunity — both in the U.S. and at home in Montreal.
George Floyd died in Minneapolis on Monday after pleading for air while a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck.
His death has sparked nightly protests in major U.S. cities.
‘It keeps happening and it’s happening here’
The Montreal rally was a solidarity gathering with American anti-racism activists, but organizers say it is also an opportunity to express their own anger at the treatment of marginalized people in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.
Some of the names invoked included names of black men killed during Montreal police interventions in recent years.
“It’s important for everyone to be here today so that we can have a lot of voices to say the George Floyd event is not a singular event,” said Marie-Livia Beauge, one of the event organizers. “It keeps happening and it’s happening here in Montreal so to be here together is to show solidarity and denounce the injustice.”
The gathering drew Montrealers of all stripes and backgrounds, holding posters with slogans. Protesters chanted “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe” — what Floyd was caught on video saying.
They took a knee in unison several times in solidarity with the movement.
But when Montreal police called on protesters to disperse, some refused.
‘If you support them, you’re against us’
Leah Blain, 20, chose to continue demonstrating and was part of a group trying to reach police headquarters when she was met with pepper spray.
“We were just standing here. We were showing our support and this is what happens. The police support a system that’s against us, so if you support them, you’re against us,” she said.
On Sunday evening, Steve Haboucha was clearing broken glass from the frame around the front window of his Koodo Mobile store on Montreal’s Ste Catherine Street. Security video from his store, he said, shows a stream of people entering the cell phone shop and leaving with accessories over a 30-minute period.
About 10 police officers were there, standing over broken glass, keeping guard outside. Haboucha said the police told him there were “hundreds” of stores that suffered the same fate along the route the protesters took.
A few kilometres west on the same downtown street, the loud pops of cracking glass echoed through the neighbourhood, preceding a group of people who turned their destruction onto seemingly random targets.
On one corner, a group used a metal construction sign and its steel stand to smash the front glass of a payday loan branch.
Smashed windows, looted stores
All along Ste Catherine, people smashed windows and looted stores, while trying to evade police.
Before chaos erupted, Vincent Mousseau, a social worker and community organizer, called out Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante, who earlier Sunday had condemned “violence, racism and systemic discrimination” in a series of tweets.
Mousseau cautioned against empty words from leaders.
“In fighting this, we need to ensure our movements are not co-opted to stifle our anger with their kind word and simultaneous inaction,” Mousseau said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers repeatedly told people to spread out, trying to find a spot where a two-metre distance could be maintained.
Despite a majority of people wearing masks and organizers squirting hand sanitizer, the numbers attending made distancing impossible.
The location adjacent to Montreal police headquarters was packed, with police closely guarding the building that houses their brass.
Doctor urges pandemic caution
Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health, told Radio-Canada on Sunday evening that he recognized the importance of the cause but urged hand washing and for anyone exhibiting symptoms to let health authorities know they attended the protest.
Around the start of the demonstration, Montreal police took the unusual step of issuing a tweet saying they were dismayed by the death of George Floyd.
“Both the action taken and the inaction of the witnesses present go against the values of our organization,” the force tweeted, calling for a peaceful demonstration.
“We respect the rights and the need of everyone to speak out against this violence and will be by your side to ensure your safety,” the police said.
The Montreal rally followed one in Toronto on Saturday, which remained peaceful.
Canada approaches 91K coronavirus cases; sharp rise in daily deaths due to glitch – Globalnews.ca
Canada’s new coronavirus cases remained in the triple-digit territory for the sixth day in a row, for a total of nearly 91,000 infections.
The vast bulk of the 756 new COVID-19 cases stem from Quebec and Ontario, which collectively account for a majority of the national death toll and caseload. More than 48,000 people are considered recovered so far across Canada.
The death toll rose by 221 on Sunday — but 165 of these were fatalities that date back several days.
This is because Quebec reported a sharp rise in deaths — 202 in total — on Sunday due to a technical glitch. Only 37 of these deaths were from the last 24 hours, while the rest of the fatalities date back several days and weren’t taken into account earlier due to technical issues.
That leaves Sunday’s daily death toll, using figures from the past 24 hours, at 57 — the lowest it’s been since early April. The overall death toll stands at 7,295.
Quebec, the hardest-hit province in Canada, saw 408 new cases, bringing its total to more than 51,000 cases, including more than 16,000 recoveries. More than 4,600 people have died.
Ontario announced 326 new cases of COVID-19, and 19 new deaths, bringing figures to more than 27,800 cases and 2,266 deaths. More than 21,000 cases are deemed recoveries.
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Alberta reported 18 new cases and no new deaths. The province has now seen more than 7,000 cases of COVID-19, with 89 per cent of them recovered so far. The death toll stands at 143. Stage 1 of the provincial reopening plan launches Monday. Anyone in Alberta can get tested for COVID-19, symptoms or not.
New Brunswick reported three new cases on Sunday. All are at a long-term care home, in people aged between 80 and 89.
The province was almost clear of all its COVID-19 cases until a new cluster appeared in Campbellton region, after a doctor who visited Quebec earlier in May did not self-isolate upon return. The community now has 12 active cases, while 120 prior cases throughout the province are considered resolved.
Saskatchewan reported one new case, for a total of 646 cases, and one new death, raising its death toll to 11. More than 580 people have recovered.
No new cases
Nova Scotia reported no new cases and deaths, as did Newfoundland and Labrador. There are 1,056 cases in Nova Scotia, including 15 active cases. Sixty people have died and the majority of fatalities are connected to one long-term care home in Halifax.
The coronavirus pandemic is changing the face of palliative care in Quebec
Newfoundland and Labrador remains at 261 cases and three deaths, with 255 recovered and three active.
Manitoba also reported no new cases. The province has 10 active cases left, with nobody hospitalized.
All cases resolved
Prince Edward Island’s 27 cases of COVID-19 have been resolved for some time. The Northwest Territories and the Yukon also have seen all their cases resolved.
Nunavut remains the only region in Canada that has not seen a confirmed case of COVID-19.
British Columbia had no figures to report on Sunday.
Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 6.1 million people and killed more than 371,000. The U.S. accounts for the most number of cases (nearly 1.8 million) and the highest death toll (more than 104,000).
— With files by The Canadian Press
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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