July 8, 2020

Winnipeg
27° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

Subscribe

Taking flight

Traffic recovering quickly at Fast Air business aviation terminal

The Free Press has made this story available free of charge so everyone can access trusted information on the coronavirus.

Support this work and subscribe today

At the Winnipeg Richardson International Airport, passenger traffic is still down about 90 per cent from its pre-COVID days.

But over at the Fast Air business aviation terminal, traffic is already approaching about 50 per cent of the activity it saw before travel bans were implemented.

"I was in at 6:30 this morning because we had six flights between 7 and 7:30," Dan Rutherford, Fast Air’s manager of marketing and business development, said on Tuesday.

The International Air Transport Association is projecting that the global airline industry will lose US$84.3 billion in 2020.

Dan Rutherford is Fast Air’s manager of marketing and business development.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dan Rutherford is Fast Air’s manager of marketing and business development.

"Financially, 2020 will go down as the worst year in the history of aviation," the IATA said in a report published Tuesday.

It’s not to say the business aviation industry is immune to the COVID-19 travel concerns that has brought the global commercial aviation industry to its knees — or that the private jet business is always that busy in Winnipeg — but the flexibility and ability to manage its environment has allowed business to start ticking up a little quicker.

"Initially there was a lot of activity just getting people home. Then there was a lull for three-to-four weeks," Rutherford said of the kind of work Winnipeg-based business jets have been undertaking of late.

"Then it started to heat up. People are saying there is a meeting that they just have to be on site for. We are able to do that and we’re starting to see more of that."

“Financially, 2020 will go down as the worst year in the history of aviation.” – IATA report

The almost total shutdown the commercial aviation industry has experienced means it is not going to re-emerge with the coverage and cost dynamics it enjoyed in pre-pandemic times.

Industry observers believe there might be a brief price holiday when travel opens up, but much smaller customer loads — because of social distancing — will drive operating costs up which will almost certainly drive ticket prices up.

No one can say exactly how it will shake out but the airlines’ inventory will likely decrease and routes that are not productive will be dropped. So whereas last year there might have been 10 flights a day to Toronto, that might be cut in half and cost twice as much.

"Those are the kinds of things that are going to really affect air travel and we’re already hearing people say ‘Maybe we should look at a light jet or a charter,’" said Rutherford.

"Using a private terminal makes it so much easier to control what is going on and mitigating risks," Dan Rutherford says.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

"Using a private terminal makes it so much easier to control what is going on and mitigating risks," Dan Rutherford says.

Winnipeg is hardly a business aviation hub, but Fast Air has seen an increase in arrivals and departures since the widespread travel shut down began in mid-March.

Fast Air, which owns and/or operates about 25 turboprop and small jet planes for private customers and charter services, is starting to get inquiries from customers it has never dealt with before.

"We just got a call from someone asking about whether or not we could take two couples to Scottsdale, Ariz." Rutherford said. "We did not do much of that before. We have already begun to think about the fall and putting together something to enable people to get to their winter homes."

Not to say Winnipeg is about to become a business aviation hub, but WingX, a U.K. data analytics and consulting company, said in a recent report that the best performing segments are very light and entry level jets, and turboprops — the kind that Fast Air manages — as opposed to more extravagant corporate jets. For instance, a trip to Minneapolis for a meeting might cost $6,000-to-$7,000 on a King Air Beechcraft turboprop compared to twice that on a light jet.

"People are saying there is a meeting that they just have to be on site for. We are able to do that and we’re starting to see more of that." – Dan Rutherford

Fast Air also owns the business jet terminal and fuelling business that used to be known as the Esso Avitat (now called the Fast Air Jet Centre) and it’s starting to a growing number of business aircraft arriving there.

"Some of our traditional clients are not flying as much maybe because of concerns about COVID, maybe because of the financial impact, but at the same time there is a surge of new people contacting us and that’s making up some of that deficit," Rutherford said.

The heightened public health concerns and limiting exposure to large buildings and public spaces has caused many companies to look for other options when they need to travel.

For instance, the Fast Air’s terminal, which has the capacity to handle as many as 40 people, is being limited to no more than 15 people.

"Using a private terminal makes it so much easier to control what is going on and mitigating risks," he said. "Our doors are locked. We greet people at the door with mask and PPE and they can be on a flight in 10 minutes."

Transport Canada mandates that pilots and all passengers on business aviation flights have to wear masks.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

Read full biography

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.