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Victoria International Airport calls for multi-province guidelines to boost air travel
A WestJet flight arriving from Vancouver lands at the Victoria International Airport: June 5, 2020 (CTV News)
VICTORIA -- After months of travel restrictions due to COVID-19, it is so quiet at the Victoria International Airport that you can hear a pin drop.
According to the airport authority, the number of travellers passing through the airport are down drastically since the start of the pandemic.
“What we are doing in a typical month now is the same numbers you would find in a typical day last year, and it's quite staggering,” said Victoria International Airport president and CEO Geoff Dickson.
“In May we carried 6,300 passengers and we usually do 6,000 a day in May.”
Dickson forecasts the numbers for June will be down 90 per cent compared to the number of travellers in June 2019. He says the dilemma for the airport is that each province has its own medical health officer making decisions to combat the pandemic and there is not single authority allowing travel between provinces by air.
“It really comes down to who is going to make the call that it is safe to travel province to province by air,” said Dickson. “Airlines fly province to province, so who’s going to make the call?”
The Victoria Airport Authority would like to see the provinces come together to make evidence-based, science-based and risk-assessed decisions to ease COVID-19 restrictions on domestic air travel.
“Nobody wants to see a spike or another outbreak but at the same time we have to balance that with tourism and the economy and how British Columbia is doing,” said Dickson. “All we can do, as an aviation industry, is take the appropriate steps to mitigate the risk.”
Dickson said the ultimate decision lies with the provincial health officers. He says the experts are going to have to say that flying between certain provinces who have flattened the curve is permitted, while continuing to restrict travel between provinces where new infections continue to rise.
“It’s very challenging, and as difficult as it is for the airport it is incredibly complicated for the airlines because they don’t know how to get started,” said Dickson.
“The aviation industry has been working to put all the measures in place and ultimately it is going to come down to the science community saying those are the right steps to mitigate the probability [in spreading the virus] to near zero,” he said.
Though ridership is low, the airport reports there is a growing demand from people who want to travel to other parts of Canada by plane.
According to the airport authority, what is needed to increase demand is a unified message from health authorities.
“We all listen to Dr. Henry and she guides us, but nobody is guiding us right now with respect to air travel,” said Dickson.
“We need a little more guidance because in the absence of that, we (travellers) just naturally conclude it’s not a good thing to do right now so let’s not do it.”
Dickson is quick to point out that he supports anything that can be done to safely encourage more air travel in Canada. He says for travellers to again feel confident in air travel, it will take the COVID-19 curve to flattened completely.
“I think it is just going to take a bit of time,” said Dickson. “I think everyone is dealing with a difficult situation and trying to figure their way through this.”