The Nova Scotia government handed out nearly $20 million in funding on Friday to help airports in Sydney and Halifax recover from the pandemic and attract new airlines and flights.
Bob McNeil, chair of the J. A. McCurdy Sydney Airport authority, says the capital reserves were depleted over the last two years just keeping the lights on.
The authority is getting $5.3 million, which will restore the bank accounts and be used to repair runways and the aging terminal.
"This is a big lift, because this allows us to update our infrastructure," McNeil said. "This almost puts the ship right again."
Sydney is getting another $1 million in air access funding to attract new airlines and flights.
CEO Mike MacKinnon said that's less money than the infrastructure funding, but it's almost more important.
It means the airport can not just reset after the pandemic, but can also grow in the future.
"We never had that capability in the past, so this is really exciting," he said.
The airport was busy on Friday and MacKinnon said passenger traffic is about 55 per cent of what it was in 2019, before the pandemic.
But the summer is looking good, he said, with WestJet and Air Canada adding about 18 per cent more capacity than they had in Sydney in 2019.
The question is whether that increased capacity will translate into increased passengers, which is where airports make their money, MacKinnon said.
"Whether or not we'll fill all those seats remains to be seen, but obviously the airlines would not put that extra seat capacity in unless they were seeing indications that the advance bookings were strong and they have seen that.
"We're pretty excited that this summer will be a good summer and of course that's really when our airport makes hay."
McNeil said the only way to increase business now is to use the air access funds as incentives for new carriers.
"That's just the way they operate," he said. "If they want to come to an airport, you have to entice them to your airport, so for the first time, we're going to have funds to do that."
Cape Breton East MLA Brian Comer made the announcement in Sydney on behalf of Economic Development Minister Susan Corkum-Greek.
He said airport improvements help with tourism and economic development and are crucial for health care.
"I think if you even use locum physicians as one example, the airport is a vital recruitment and retention tool," Comer said.
Halifax gets $13 million
Halifax International Airport Authority is getting $13 million and all of that will be in air access funds.
The government says it was initially intended to attract U.S. and international flights, but the authority can now use part of it to re-establish domestic services that were cut during the pandemic.
"Air service connections will be critical in supporting regional economic recovery," said Marie Manning, vice-president of the Halifax authority, in a news release.
"Now more than ever, we need to partner with our airlines to ensure service is returned to our region in a timely manner, allowing our tourism markets to gain back the momentum they've lost since COVID-19."
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