As major airlines lose billions, plans for federal aid remain murky

As loses pile up in the Canadian airline industry, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has hinted at financial support, though the details remain murky.

Air Canada has slashed 90 per cent of its flights due to COVID-19, resulting in some 20,000 furloughed employees and losses topping $1 billion in the first quarter.

“The airline industry is living through the darkest period ever in the history of commercial aviation,” Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu said in a video statement posted online.

Rovinescu said the current situation is worse than the aftermath of 9/11, the SARS outbreak and the financial crisis in 2008. He added it could take up to three years to recover.

Meanwhile, WestJet has shut down its international flights and Porter Airlines has completely suspended service until June 29.

On Monday, Trudeau hinted support was coming for the airline industry, though he did not say how much money would be sent and when.

“We need to continue to have a strong airline sector, once this is all done,” Trudeau told reporters on Monday. “We’re looking very carefully at how to support industries like that, that are so important to Canada and to Canadians.”

Karl Moore, professor of business strategy at McGill University and an expert in the airline industry, believes the time is now for financial support to be sent toward Canada’s airlines.

“I think they need government help,” he told CTV News. “We see it in the U.S. and Europe and Asia, governments are helping people like Luftansa, KLM, Air France (and) British Airways.”


The federal government has already offered $1.7 billion in financial aid to the oil and gas industry, and Trudeau has mentioned the tourism industry could also receive some financial benefit.

In the meat processing sector, companies are looking for financial help to retrofit their facilities to meet the changing requirements of work during a pandemic.

“It’s clear that the traditional packing and processing plants, that has existed pre-COVID, likely can’t exist the way it was six weeks ago,” said Colin White, President and CEO of the Canadian Meat Council.

At a Cargill plant in High River, Alta., employees returned to work on Monday after a two-week shutdown that saw 936 workers test positive for COVID-19, one of whom died from the virus.

“This is wrong,” said UFCW Local 401 president Thomas Hesse. “The plant should not reopen until the workers can be absolutely sure that it’s safe.”

“We spoke to over 600 workers, 85 per cent of them told us they were scared and 80 per cent of the workers told us that the plant should not reopen today.”

The workers on Monday held a virtual memorial for their deceased colleague, identified as 20-year Cargill employee Bui Thi Hiep.

With files from The Canadian Press and CTV News Calgary

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