Atlantic airports call for COVID-19 testing at region's airports

·3 min read

The association representing airports in Atlantic Canada is calling on governments in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador to begin testing passengers flying into the region's airports for COVID-19.

Canada's commercial airlines have been hit hard by COVID-19, with passenger levels down 92 per cent during the pandemic, thanks to a combination of travel restrictions and fear of catching the illness.

"Our industry is calling on the Atlantic premiers to work with our airports to implement arrival-testing protocols for domestic passengers," said a written news release Monday from the Atlantic Canada Airports Association.

"Adding a testing protocol for everyone moving through our region by air would provide an added layer of peace of mind for our communities. This additional safety measure could allow for a reduction in quarantine times, while still making sure that our region stays healthy."

Bubble 'suffocating our airports'

With Air Canada Monday reporting third-quarter revenue losses of more than 86 per cent over the same period in 2019, airport operators worry about more cuts.

Chris Brown/CBC
Chris Brown/CBC

In mid-October, WestJet announced it would no longer fly to Moncton, Fredericton, Sydney, Charlottetown and Quebec City and drastically cut back its service to St. John's and Halifax. The cuts took effect Nov. 2.

And in June, Air Canada indefinitely suspended 11 routes in Atlantic Canada along with the closing of stations in Bathurst, N.B. and Wabush, N.L.

"Given the cuts our region has already endured, we are quite relieved to hear the federal government is willing to discuss sector relief with air carriers this week," said Derrick Stanford, president of the Atlantic Canada Airports Association and CEO of Saint John airport.

"COVID-19 and the Atlantic provinces' 14-day quarantine restrictions have smothered our industry. We need to work toward a science-based solution and implement testing at our airports before we lose even more connectivity."

New federal support for Canada's pandemic-battered airline industry will be contingent on carriers providing refunds to passengers whose flights were cancelled, the government announced on Sunday.

"We've had the Atlantic bubble for five months, but bubbles are funny things, there's only so much air left in ours — right now it's suffocating our airports and our economies," Stanford said. "We cannot wait any longer; we need to use science as a way forward and our provinces need to move forward on testing before it's too late and our industry collapses."

The association points out some Atlantic Canadian provinces are doing testing or reduced quarantine for essential workers and rotational workers. As well, Alberta has a COVID-19 testing pilot program underway for arriving international travellers, and many European countries and airlines have launched arrivals and departure COVID-19 testing programs.

Passengers at the airport in Frankfurt were receiving results by email in as little as three hours after testing.

However, some scientists say the sensitivity rate of such tests is 65 per cent, meaning roughly a third of cases are missed.

More from CBC P.E.I.