2020 Passenger Traffic at Halifax Stanfield Hit 50-Year Low

HIAA Calls on Federal Government to Provide Financial Support, Implement National Health Strategy for Air Sector Recovery

Walking through Halifax Stanfield these days feels a bit like you’ve stumbled onto the set of a post-apocalyptic movie. Escalators are turned off, lights are dimmed, stores are shuttered, and traveller sightings are few and far between. The pandemic, which has created challenges for many in our communities, has decimated the aviation industry and stalled passenger traffic at levels not seen since 1972.

“At the start of last year, Halifax Stanfield was well-positioned for growth, and our team was prepared for another successful year, having added two new international routes for our community members to enjoy,” said Joyce Carter, President and CEO, Halifax International Airport Authority (HIAA). “Little did we know, the COVID-19 pandemic would have an untold impact on our airport and its people, the aviation industry, and especially our communities.”

In 2020, Halifax Stanfield welcomed just 995,426 passengers. It’s the first time since 1972 the airport served fewer than one million passengers. Over two-thirds of those passengers travelled between January and March, before the pandemic took hold, resulting in federal and provincial travel restrictions that caused non-essential travel to come to a halt. From April to December, the airport saw a decline in passenger traffic of 91 per cent over the same period in 2019. Halifax Stanfield is currently connected to just four destinations, compared to the 46 that were planned for 2020.

“Time is running out for Canada’s airports. We can only sustain this lack of passenger activity for so long, without significant government support. We have seen airlines make tough decisions and cuts in Atlantic Canada, and while understandable due to lack of travel demand, these cuts will impact the flights and destinations we can offer our community in the future,” said Carter. “In order to be here for our passengers and community, we have to make sure that air travel is a viable option for them.”

HIAA is joining Canada’s airports in asking the federal government to increase support to the air sector by collaborating on reasonable financial solutions and implementing a national, science-based approach to safely restarting air travel, such as airport testing and health screening. Restarting air travel is key in rebuilding Nova Scotia, and Atlantic Canada’s economies, through the tourism sector and beyond.

“The impact on regional air capacity as a result of COVID-19 has been devastating,” says Darlene Grant Fiander, President of the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia (TIANS).  “Recovery and rebuilding of our aviation sector will require focused financial and policy support so that Halifax Stanfield can continue its role as an economic powerhouse for both tourism and trade in the Atlantic region.  A strong HIAA will ensure the resumption of the regional routes that have been discontinued during the pandemic.”

Halifax Stanfield plays an essential role in not only tourism, but also the broader economic impact of the entire Atlantic region. Pre-pandemic, the airport community supported 5,700 on-site jobs and contributed $3.8 billion annually to the Nova Scotia economy. As a result of COVID-19, it is expected that 50 per cent of Canadian aviation jobs will be lost, and even more could be affected in the tourism and hospitality sector.

“It’s been a very challenging year to operate at the airport,” said Lisa Olie, General Manager, Liquid Assets. “While this past year has been hard on us from a retail standpoint, the pandemic forced us to look at our business model in a new way. We now offer delivery service to supplement our much smaller revenue stream from airport activity. One of the most satisfying things we hear from airport customers who need to travel during the pandemic is that they’re glad we’re open for them. Being there for our customers in any manner they need us continues to be the reason we open up each day at Halifax Stanfield.”

As a critical piece of transportation infrastructure, Halifax Stanfield remains open to safely move essential workers and goods, such as vaccines, facilitate medevac and support other important services that support Canada’s economy and recovery.

Throughout the pandemic, Halifax Stanfield has significantly enhanced health and safety measures throughout the facility, including implementing new cleaning and sanitization protocols, physical distancing, and mandatory masking, limiting the terminal building to travellers and workers, and issuing reminders about self-isolation requirements and good personal hygiene.

HIAA also reduced its operating expenses to the extent possible while maintaining safe and secure airport operations. Airport authorities in Canada, including HIAA, operate on a user-pay model, and without users there are only so many levers to pull to manage a financial crisis of this magnitude. Whether one or one thousand airplanes land, the cost to safely operate the airfield, terminal building and property remains largely the same.

HIAA remains concerned about its ability to support the economic recovery of the province and region the longer this crisis goes on, and to reconnect community members to their loved ones, clients, and education institutions, when the pandemic and associated travel restrictions ease.

“We have truly missed our passengers this past year and we’re ready to support them when the time is right to travel again,” said Carter. “I am confident we will recover from COVID-19, however it will not be easy. We’re committed to continue to serve our passengers and look forward to better times ahead as our communities and the aviation sector recover from the impacts of the pandemic.”

Passenger Statistics Summary

Sector Annual 2019 Annual 2020 April to December 2020
Domestic 3,524,167 856,877 302,599
U.S. 361,348 67,427* 0
International 302,928 71,122** 653***
Total 4,188,443 995,426 303,252

* This figure represents pre-pandemic air travel to and from the U.S.

** This figure primarily represents pre-pandemic international air travel.

***This figure represents essential repatriation flights and temporary foreign worker transportation.