Last year was a year to be toughened by the Regina Airport Authority (RAA) but its unflappable CEO and President James Bogusz is already gearing up for a strong 2022.
During the RAAs annual general meeting Thursday, Bogusz showed those gathered a photo of an empty terminal in 2021, reminding people of what the airport has looked like for most of the pandemic.
“The airport is typically a busy center, an engine for this community,” he said, mentioning how the airport serves a catchment area of half a million people. “Throughout most of the spring, we were only seeing four to six commercial departures a day. And to give you context, we usually have 25 to 27. It was tough.”
There was also a fight to keep the air traffic control service tower.
Bogusz said in August of 2021 the airport saw 50 per cent of its normal traffic but the start of the year was “catastrophic” and later, in the midst of Omicron things again took a turn for the worse. Week-to-week and even day-to-day changes from the federal government made massive differences in the willingness and ability of customers to travel, said Bogusz. It made it hard to plan for anything.
“I have never seen anything so uncertain as a CEO ever, where you couldn’t have some predictability on what the next month would look like it was a real roller coaster ride,” said Bogusz.
But in 2022, he’s already seeing some predictability with things evening out. There is stability and that means Bogusz is again looking to expand the airport, expand the Canada Border Services area, repave the runway and get more international flights, including a direct route to an American hub.
Last week Bogusz said the airport saw 70 per cent of its normal traffic, with 14 to 16 flights departing a day.
In terms of rehiring laid-off staff, Bogusz said the RAA had to lay off 35 per cent of its staff going back to April 2020. The CEO said at any given time pre-pandemic, there were 50 full-time employees at the airport with some additional seasonal workers coming in the winter for de-icing and snow clearing. He said 43 people have been hired back, soon to be 44.
Outgoing board chair Trent Fraser joked in front of the crowd saying “I’m the chair of a board at an airport during the pandemic. Smart cookies, right?
Coming to the end of his nine-year hitch with the board, Fraser said things like the strategic plan and many capital projects have been put on hold. During the past two years, he said “the board’s ultimate goal was to survive.”
2021 was a low point for air travel in Regina and Canada writ large.
At the Regina International Airport, there were 370,364 passengers in 2020 and 355,490 in 2021.
For comparison, in 2019, the RAA welcomed 1,179,485 passengers.
Jenna Khoury, chief financial officer, explained that in 2020 the airport was not affected until March, and had three normal months of pre-pandemic air travel to bolster revenue that year. No such luck in 2021 with 12 calendar months of pandemic, restrictions and substantially diminished passenger volumes.
Generally speaking, Khoury said the airport generates around $28 million in a good year. In 2021, the airport generated $18,293,819.
She explained that federal assistance came in the way of $2.6 million from the Transport Canada airport relief fund, $2.5 million from the regional air transportation initiative, $1.1 million from the Canadian emergency wage subsidy, and just over $200,000 from a tourism and hospitality program.
That assistance from the feds meant that the airport actually saw an overall revenue increase of 36.6 per cent compared to 2020. All rent was also waived for the year and property tax was reduced but still, the airport did post a loss of $5.5 million, said Khoury.
What’s more, with a steep decline in people flying, the airport sought to find new ways to make money and keep the lights on. One way was to restructure a fee attached to tickets, now called the passenger facility fee (PFF).
“Non-aviation revenue has grown to 61 per cent of our total airport revenue excluding our passenger facility fee,” said Khoury.
Pre-pandemic parking would generate around $4 million a year. In 2021 it generated $1,146,688.
But the thing Bogusz wants is not just a return but for improvement and expansion; improvements to the roof, especially. He said Sunwing is talking about more warm-weather destinations and there is the hope for additional low-cost service providers in Regina and, overall, more traffic. The year was hardened and, according to Khoury and Bogusz, things went better than expected in 2021, and this year they are again cautiously optimistic.
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