“The industry will not be able to get out of this challenge unless there’s government assistance.” This stark statement comes from Mike McNaney, the president of the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC), a lobbying group for the Canadian airline industry, illustrates one of the major economic fears attached to the COVID-19 crisis. What shape will the economic recovery take if major businesses like Air Canada, Westjet, and Air Transat, who are all represented by NACC, and others on their scale no longer exist?

Air Canada, for example, has scaled back its operations over 90 percent, as customer fear and government regulation force thousands of seats to go unsold. The largest airline in Canada, it typically flies approximately 50 million passengers a year on over 1,600 flights a day, most of which the airline expect to remain canceled until late autumn or even Christmas. As of 2018, Air Canada owned 400 active aircraft, every one of which still costs money, even parked and inactive. “Bleeding money,” is what McNaney called it, to the tune of tens of millions of Canadian dollars each day.

Canadian airline industry lobby groups like NACC and the Air Transportation Association of Canada (ATAC), as well as major airlines, are pressing the Canadian government to include them in COVID-19 financial aid packages. They’re already eligible for the national wage subsidy program, which enables them to keep thousands of laid-off workers on the payroll even though no income is coming in, but payroll represents a relatively small percentage of an airline’s budget.

Consumer groups and other concerned parties recognize that if we want airlines to exist when we’re ready to travel again, taxpayer aid is necessary. But they want that money to be given with prudent conditions. They want protection for customer refunds, after many airlines have refused full refunds to passengers whose flights were canceled by the pandemic. And they want a complete ban on using aid package money to pay for executive bonuses or raises.

According to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, the government acknowledges that air travel has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, but they are still evaluating how help will be given, and in what form.

Photo: Air Canada jets parked at the Vancouver, B.C., airport. Credit: Icatnews / Shutterstock.com