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Pandemic drop in air traffic cost Victoria International Airport nearly $50 million

Passenger counts dropped to around 575,000 in 2020 and 2021, from over 1.9 million in 2019
The Victoria International Airport lost almost $50 million in revenue over 2020 and 2021. (Black Press Media file photo)

The Victoria International Airport lost almost $50 million in revenue in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, states a new report from the Victoria Airport Authority (VAA).

The figures appear in a report from due to be presented to Central Saanich council Monday (Jan. 10) by the VAA board of directors.

“2021 was another challenging year for Victoria International Airport as the aviation industry continued to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on air travel,” it reads. “Continued health measures, border closures and changing rules for travel continued to impact passenger and revenue volumes.”

The VAA helped mitigate losses by securing an unspecified amount of debt financing from CIBC to help withstand lost liquidity. “Through cost containment, (Victoria International Airport) is forecast to make a small profit, pre-noncash items. Capital projects were held to a minimum.”

RELATED: Amazon confirmed as Victoria International Airport warehouse tenant

The significant decline in revenue reflects lower passenger volumes. Passenger and aircraft activity typically account for 90 per cent of revenue. After 2019 saw more than 1.9 million passengers serviced at the airport, that number dropped to just under 575,000 in 2020. Updated figures for 2021 show a nominal increase to just over 576,000.

The report does include some potentially positive news for Canada’s 10th largest airport.

It states passenger numbers picked up “significantly” in the second half of 2021, a trend it expects to continue in 2022.

Developments such as the arrival of ultra-low-cost carrier Flair, which offers nonstop routes to Edmonton, Calgary and Kitchener/Waterloo; and the arrival of Swoop, flying direct routes to Edmonton and Calgary, spurred some growth. WestJet, meanwhile, launched nonstop routes to Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Ottawa. International travel to the U.S. also resumed in late 2021 after the federal government lifted restrictions in place since March 2020.

Last year also saw the completion or start of several new business developments on airport lands, including the completion of Titan Boats’ new manufacturing facility and the Western Canada Marine Spill Response facility. None generated more public interest as the VAA deal with York Realty, which calls for a large warehouse to be operated by online retail giant Amazon.

The building’s initial design, since revised, caused considerable controversy with local residents, as did what some called the lack of consultation prior to the announcement.

RELATED: Blind spot leaves Victoria airport’s new $4.3-million taxiway extension unusable

The VAA report also touches on plans to fix a blind spot that has left a $4.3-million taxiway extension unusable. The installation of new CCTV cameras is planned to allow air traffic controllers to view the newly built east extension of Taxiway Echo, and give aircraft access to the full length of the taxiway.

Overall, the report speaks of better days ahead for the airport, predicting higher consumer confidence in air travel as vaccination rates rise and travel restrictions ease.

The VAA board also calls on governments to take a broader perspective in the face of future pandemics. “The aviation industry manages risk regularly and recognizes that it cannot be eliminated entirely, but managed in a way to move people safely. This is a perspective for governments to consider how they can not only protect their citizens from the virus, but how to protect citizens from joblessness too.”

As a generator of close to $1 billion annually in economic activity, a “vital thriving” airport is critical to region’s overall economic vitality, the report summarized.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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