Airport gets $5.3M in federal infrastructure funding

Changes are on the horizon for Winnipeg’s largest airport thanks to an injection of funds from the federal government.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/02/2022 (237 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Changes are on the horizon for Winnipeg’s largest airport thanks to an injection of funds from the federal government.

Winnipeg Richardson International Airport, which has seen record-low passenger volumes during the pandemic, will receive more than $5.3 million from Ottawa for infrastructure, federal ministers announced Thursday.

“As we look to a brighter future, Canada’s airports will be essential to our economic recovery and keeping people connected,” Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal said at a virtual news conference.

The money will be split five ways. A portion will go to upgraded security in the terminal, including closed circuit television and high-definition cameras in specific locations.

Some funding will be invested into a room for COVID-19 testing and screening for visitors; currently, a company conducts tests in a temporary site on the terminal’s top floor.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / FREE PRESS Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal

“The hope is to one day… be able to do all of the travel shots and vaccinations people require (there),” Barry Rempel, the Winnipeg Airports Authority’s retiring president and CEO, said in an interview with the Free Press.

Additionally, there will be an airport personnel-specific testing facility outside the terminal. The sites won’t be ready until late October because of city permitting and other processes, Rempel said.

Builders will erect a permanent structure for security screening on non-passenger vehicles near the terminal building’s exit.

Ottawa’s funds will also go to a vehicle access lane for processing cargo, and road repairs around the airport.

“The funds will go a long way to helping our community to grow,” he said.

“The hope is to one day… be able to do all of the travel shots and vaccinations people require (there).” – Barry Rempel

However, it will still take years for the travel hub to recover from COVID-19 era dropoff in traffic.

To date, the airport has lost around $162 million in revenue over the course of the pandemic, Rempel said.

“If things come back as we’ve forecast, it’ll probably be just shy of $170 million by the time we get through this,” he said.

Things were accelerating pre-Omicron: visitor traffic was up to 43 per cent of 2019 levels until about mid-December, Rempel said. It dropped to 20 per cent and is now sitting around 30 per cent.

MIKE SUDOMA / FREE PRESS FILES Barry Rempel, the Winnipeg Airports Authority’s retiring president and CEO.

“We don’t foresee full recovery until probably late 2025, parts of it into 2026,” Rempel said.

The airport has used over $75 million of its cash reserves — money it had saved pre-pandemic — and it’s had to borrow $100 million through the past two years, Rempel said.

Province funnels $1M to tourism sector

The provincial government has funnelled $1 million into Manitoba’s tourism industry to spark economic recovery from COVID-19.

Fifty businesses have received up to $25,000 each to operate new or existing tourism experiences, Travel Manitoba announced.

The provincial government has funnelled $1 million into Manitoba’s tourism industry to spark economic recovery from COVID-19.

Fifty businesses have received up to $25,000 each to operate new or existing tourism experiences, Travel Manitoba announced.

Over 120 companies applied for the Tourism Innovation and Recovery Fund. The program, which launched in November, doubled its $500,000 budget because of demand.

Discover Churchill, the Manitoba Museum, Oak Hammock Marsh and A Maze in Corn are among those to receive funding.

The goal is to grow visitor spending in Manitoba by 50 per cent, to reach $2.5 billion by 2030, according to a news release from Travel Manitoba.

The Crown corporation, the provincial government and the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce are collaborating on a tourism strategy aimed at making their target a reality.

Pre-pandemic, the tourism sector supported over 20,000 full-time jobs and contributed over $300 million to provincial revenue.

— Gabrielle Piché

Passenger traffic accounts for about 90 per cent of the airport’s usual revenue. Nearly eighty per cent of its costs, including utilities and taxes, are fixed.

But, things are improving, Rempel noted. Countries across the ocean, including Australia, Switzerland and Sweden, have lifted travel restrictions.

“It will happen (here),” Rempel said. “The question just is, how soon is it going to happen?”

On Thursday, Rempel was flying home to Winnipeg after meeting with American carriers about bringing their planes back to the city. He said they’re hesitant to promise anything until Canadian restrictions lift.

Last summer, the federal government announced $7 million in funding to repave Winnipeg Richardson International Airport’s airfield and $5.7 million to maintain operations and air services.

New projects’ construction will begin this summer, Rempel said.

gabrielle.piche@winnipegfreepress.com

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Reporter

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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