National Post (Latest Edition)

Unions push Ottawa for $7B airlines bailout

- Ilya Banares

Three unions representi­ng thousands of airline workers are calling for $ 7 billion in government aid to prevent “long-lasting damage” to the aviation sector from the pandemic.

Government measures to curb COVID-19 have choked off most air travel, including a requiremen­t that anyone entering the country isolate for 14 days. Through July, the recovery in Canadian air travel was much slower than in the U.S.

Unifor, the Air Canada Pilots Associatio­n and the Canadian chapter of the Air Line Pilots Associatio­n are asking Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to provide loan guarantees, money to resume and maintain air services and fund developmen­t of an “evolving” quarantine and testing plan, according to a statement released Thursday.

Funding should be under the form of a 10-year, one per cent loan, instead of a grant, Unifor National President Jerry Dias said at a press conference in Toronto.

“We need urgent funds for the aviation sector or there won’t be Canadian airlines, and that will cost us all much more,” said Dias.

The National Airlines Council of Canada, an associatio­n representi­ng the country’s largest carriers including Air Canada, Onex Corp.’s Westjet Airlines and Transat AT Inc., support the plan.

“Countries around the world have brought forth sectoral support for their aviation sectors, precisely because of the critical role aviation must play in the economic recovery,” Mike Mcnaney, the council’s chief executive, said in a separate statement. “We support today’s call by Canada’s major aviation unions.”

ACPA chief executive Robert Giguere criticized the federal government at the press conference, saying they failed to deliver industry support and left Canadian workers, employers and travellers with continued uncertaint­y. “Make no mistake — decimating this industry will impede the recovery for Canadians tomorrow and beyond,” Giguere said.

“As outlined in the Speech from the Throne, our government is actively working to put forward solutions that will provide the air sector with the support it needs,” Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said. “Any additional measures relating to air travel will be announced in due course.”

Air Canada said it’s in the process of finalizing an initial order of 25,000 COVID-19 rapid testing kits, which it hopes will allow the government to relax current restrictio­ns. The border between the U.S. and Canada has been closed to most non-essential travel since mid-march.

Dr. Jim Chung, the carrier’s chief medical officer, said rapid testing was “a means to enable government­s to relax current blanket travel restrictio­ns and quarantine­s in a measured way.”

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