EDMONTON — The federal government says it will make any new support for Canada’s airline industry during the COVID-19 pandemic contingent on refunds for passengers whose flights were cancelled.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau laid out the requirement Sunday, as he announced that Ottawa will launch talks with the industry this week.
Canada’s commercial airlines have been hit hard by COVID-19, with passenger levels down as much as 90 per cent thanks to a combination of travel restrictions and fear about catching the illness.
Garneau says Ottawa is ready to respond to the sector’s pleas for assistance by providing loans and other support to help the country’s air carriers and airports weather the pandemic.
Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney weighed in on the plan on Sunday, calling it a welcome support for the industry which supplies 127,000 jobs in his province.
“Alberta’s government welcomes news that the Government of Canada will be entering into talks with Canada’s airlines about federal support for this vital industry. The situation facing air carriers is not their doing,” he said in a written statement.
Kenney noted Alberta is home to two of Canada’s international airports and WestJet’s head office, and the airline industry is the province’s fourth-largest employer.
He also asked the federal government to do more to prioritize the development of a Canadian domestic travel framework, and a national plan for rapid COVID-19 testing.
“Alberta’s government encourages the Government of Canada to develop a national framework to reduce quarantine times for international travellers, as we have done successfully with the international travel pilot program at the Calgary International Airport and Coutts border crossing,” he said.
“Airlines have already taken unprecedented measures working with public health officials and bringing in new safety protocols, like enhanced screening. Alberta has been calling for such measures for several months.”
However, according to the federal transport minister, Ottawa will place strict conditions on any support, including requiring airlines to refund what is believed to be millions of dollars in previously booked tickets and protecting regional routes.
Many airlines have offered passengers credits for trips cancelled because of the pandemic, saying they cannot afford full refunds, and have cancelled some regional flights to save money.
Kenney says the airline industry is responsible for 127,000 jobs in the province.
A new Nanos Research survey for CTV News shows that nearly half of Canadians are opposed to the idea of government subsidies for airlines in the wake of route cancellations and layoffs.
With files from CTVNews.ca and the Canadian Press.
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