Ottawa airport undergoing ‘aggressive’ cost cutting, will receive federal rent relief

yow
Photo by Jan Jasinski.

The federal government is waiving the monthly rent paid by airport authorities to Transport Canada for the rest of the year as revenues plummet amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau says the measure will provide support worth up to $331.4 million in ground lease rents collectively to airports across the country from March through December.

The move applies to 21 airport authorities including Ottawa as well as PortsToronto, which operates Billy Bishop airport and pays a charge to the federal government.

Morneau says the air transportation sector has “suffered tremendously” as airlines cancel the vast majority of their flights and lay off thousands of staff, leaving airports bereft of traffic and fees.

The Ottawa International Airport Authority said in a statement that the organization is “very pleased” with the support and will take advantage of any other programs coming from the federal government.

“This move acknowledges the dire impact that COVID-19 is having on airports, and will help mitigate the challenges we are facing as we keep critical infrastructure operational while aggressively cutting costs,” a spokesperson said in an email to OBJ.

The Ottawa airport has seen a dramatic loss of service in recent weeks with international flights to the capital grounded and U.S. airlines such as United and Delta suspending some or all flights to the airport. YOW has also closed its duty free shopping and shut down or reduced hours at many of its concessions outlets.

Mark Laroche, president of the local airport authority, wrote in a letter earlier this month that YOW was also looking at ways to reduce costs on its ongoing capital construction projects.

The Canadian Airports Council thanked the government for the relief, and called for further aid in the form of regulatory flexibility and new funds to compensate for lost income.

Trade group president Daniel-Robert Gooch says the relief “does nothing for airports that pay no rent at all” such as Hamilton and Fort McMurray, Alta., but called it “encouraging” that Transport Canada has acknowledged the issue.

– With files from OBJ staff