The end of spring break would normally see 70,000 passengers moving through the Vancouver International Airport – this year, with the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, that number has dropped to between 10,000 and 20,000.
Flights are down 40 to 50 per cent and soon all U.S. and international flights will be grounded, explained Vancouver International Airport CEO Craig Richmond.
The federal government has ordered all non-essential international travel, including to the U.S., to be halted to stop the spread of the virus. At the moment, only Canadians and permanent residents are returning to Canada.
The grounding of flights is expected to result in about 50 per cent of the people working at the airport to be laid off, including those working in the shops, cafes and restaurants that line the airport hallways. The airport has about 26,000 employees onsite.
About 6,000 airport workers live in the City of Richmond, and the CEO said he know this will hit them hard.
Furthermore, construction projects including in the international terminal and parkade have been halted, affecting 2,000 jobs on-site and another 2,000 off-site.
Vancouver Airport Authority manages YVR with about 500 employees, but they are not planning any layoffs. However, the layoffs due to COVID-19 are expected to be in the service sector working in the airport.
Despite an expected drop in revenues this year, Richmond said the airport authority is concerned about health and safety and about those who are ill with coronavirus.
“Our economic woes aren’t as important as the human aspect of this,” Richmond said.
Richmond couldn’t yet give any exact figures on the expected drop in revenues.
“It’s not a great year for anybody,” he said.
The airport authority is already talking to various levels of government about how the airport will recover once the pandemic is over.
“We’ve been through downturns before and I think the morale is pretty good in terms of wanting to get through this and out the other side and start flying again,” he said.
But this pandemic and its effect on the airport is like nothing Richmond has seen before.
Compared to 9/11 – when he was working at YVR as vice-president of operations - this slowdown has been more gradual and the comeback will be more gradual, he explained.
Richmond was set to retire in June, but he said, if needed, he will stay on given the crisis situation.