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2021 Marks Two Years of Historically Low Activity at Atlantic Canada’s Largest Airport

It was another turbulent year for passenger and flight activity at Halifax Stanfield, resulting in significant financial losses for Halifax International Airport Authority (HIAA).

For the second year in a row, passenger activity at Halifax Stanfield was down roughly 75 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels. In 2021, 1.1 million passengers travelled through Halifax Stanfield, compared to 2019 when the airport welcomed 4.2 million passengers.

“The past two years have been the most challenging years in Halifax Stanfield’s history,” said Joyce Carter, President and CEO, HIAA. “We anticipate that it will take several more years for the airport to fully recover from the effects of COVID-19, and the recovery path will have many ups and downs along the way.”

During the first half of 2021, it was not unusual to see escalators turned off, empty hallways and parking lots, and more concessions closed than open when visiting the airport. When the Government of Nova Scotia eased travel restrictions in June in response to increasing vaccination rates, traveller confidence rose, and airport activity began to pick up over the summer and fall. The return of air service created a sense of optimism for the community as Nova Scotians began to reconnect with family and friends, with more passengers served during the month of August than January to July combined.

However, the end of 2021 was marked by a spike in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant and increased restrictions on international travel. Passenger volumes have reduced once again to only 25-30 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

“We were pleased to see an increase in travel activity in the summer and fall, bringing us to about 50 per cent of our pre-pandemic passenger levels during that period,” said Marie Manning, Chief Commercial Officer and Vice President, Business Development, HIAA. “This was the most activity we had seen since March 2020, so it was very positive for our community and for our airport, the airlines, and all our partners.”

HIAA, a non-share capital corporation like other airport authorities in Canada, operates on a user-pay model. Without passenger activity, there are few other ways to generate revenue, leaving HIAA with no choice but to borrow millions of dollars over the past two years to maintain safe and efficient airport operations. Official financial results for 2021 are not yet available, but HIAA’s financial loss is expected to be only a marginal improvement from the $40 million loss reported in 2020.

The overall decrease in passenger traffic during the pandemic has also had a significant impact on the airlines and other businesses connected to the airport, including food, beverage, and retail concessions. Approximately 45 per cent of concessions in the air terminal building remain closed because of the low passenger volumes, while others have reopened on limited hours due to less frequent flight activity and ongoing labour shortages.

Despite the continued challenges, there were some highlights in 2021. In addition to the return of travel activity in the summer and fall months, the Government of Canada also reinstated Halifax Stanfield’s ability to accept U.S. and international flights, after scheduled international flights were consolidated to the four largest Canadian airports for over a year.

“We were thrilled to welcome back our first international scheduled passenger service to Europe, with Condor Airlines offering non-stop service between Halifax and Frankfurt, Germany in the fall. We also were pleased to launch a new non-stop service with Flair Airlines between Halifax Stanfield and Orlando-Sanford, Florida,” said Manning.

Although the Omicron variant has halted the airlines’ plans to resume some U.S. and international services that were scheduled to begin in early 2022, HIAA remains hopeful that these non-stop routes will return later in 2022 or 2023 when the global health crisis improves.

“If there is one thing we’ve learned from 2021, it’s that the aviation industry, and its people and partners, are incredibly resilient,” said Carter. “Our community can be confident knowing the team at Halifax Stanfield continues to be here to serve our passengers and communities as soon as they are ready to visit their loved ones or book their well-deserved vacation,” said Carter. “Better days are on the horizon.”

Passenger Statistics Summary – Breakdown by Sector

Sector 2019 2020 2021
Domestic 3,524,167 856,877 1,065,142
U.S. (Transborder) 361,348 67,427 1,600
International 302,928 71,122 9,716
Total 4,188,443 995,426 1,076,458

 

Passenger Statistics Summary – Breakdown by Quarter

Quarter 2019 2020 2021
Q1 828,399 692,174 68,583
Q2 1,119,964 40,496 61,543
Q3 1,325,535 146,487 467,667
Q4 914,545 116,269 478,665
Total 4,188,443 995,426 1,076,458