OTTAWA — Winnipeg airport officials say a turbulent pandemic is being made worse by the Trudeau government showing no urgency to restore international flights to smaller cities.

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OTTAWA — Winnipeg airport officials say a turbulent pandemic is being made worse by the Trudeau government showing no urgency to restore international flights to smaller cities.

"The system we have right now is really favouring four cities, and we're concerned we're going to see an uneven recovery," said Tyler MacAfee, the head of lobbying and communications for the Winnipeg Airports Authority.

Manitoba card might not suffice for travel

OTTAWA — Manitoba may be rolling out its own immunization card for fully vaccinated residents, but it appears those cards won’t be enough to skip federal quarantine requirements.

“Travellers must retain a copy (paper or electronic) of their vaccination documentation, and the originals of any certified translations, for verification at the border,” wrote Tammy Jarbeau, a spokeswoman for the Public Health Agency of Canada.

OTTAWA — Manitoba may be rolling out its own immunization card for fully vaccinated residents, but it appears those cards won’t be enough to skip federal quarantine requirements.

“Travellers must retain a copy (paper or electronic) of their vaccination documentation, and the originals of any certified translations, for verification at the border,” wrote Tammy Jarbeau, a spokeswoman for the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Starting July 5, people re-entering Canada are supposed to use the ArriveCan app or website to upload proof of vaccination, which will be used to assess whether they are eligible to skip the Quarantine Act requirement to self-isolate for two weeks.

The Free Press asked Public Health if Manitoba’s new immunization card would suffice; the agency replied that border guards will still demand the actual proof of vaccination.

“Final determination is made by a government representative at the border based on the information presented at the time of entry into Canada.” Jarbeau wrote, adding Ottawa will provide more details before the policy takes effect.

— Dylan Robertson

On Monday, Ottawa announced plans to gradually re-establish international travel, starting by allowing fully vaccinated Canadians to skip the 14-day quarantine requirement. Non-residents are still barred from Canada, while passengers still must take a COVID-19 test at departure and arrival.

Yet only the four largest airports — Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto-Pearson — can accept international flights, and it could be this autumn or later until cities like Winnipeg will get their routes back.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told reporters Monday he’s consulting "to determine next steps later this summer. This could include expanding the number of Canadian airports that are eligible to receive international flights."

That timeline seems unfair to MacAfee.

"Those four cities are going to have a significant advantage over the rest of the country, because they're going to be able to recover faster," Tyler MacAfee said.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES

"Those four cities are going to have a significant advantage over the rest of the country, because they're going to be able to recover faster," Tyler MacAfee said.

"Those four cities are going to have a significant advantage over the rest of the country, because they're going to be able to recover faster," he said.

The spring, Winnipeg Airports Authority announced its revenues dropped by $73.5 million in 2020, with a net revenue loss of $40.3 million. That’s because most of airport costs are fixed — labour, electricity, security — while the daily flow of passengers dropped from a daily average of 12,300 travellers to fewer than 250 people.

Last December, MacAfee's colleagues tried in vain to convince Ottawa to expand a Calgary pilot project to Winnipeg, which used rapid tests to shorten quarantine periods.

Instead, the restrictions increased.

In March 2020, Ottawa restricted flights originating from outside North America to four airports, and broadened this to include continental flights on Jan. 31.

MacAfee said an airline like WestJet or Delta needs about eight weeks to bring back flights to Phoenix or Minneapolis.

MacAfee said an airline like WestJet about eight weeks to bring back flights to Phoenix or Minneapolis.

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MacAfee said an airline like WestJet about eight weeks to bring back flights to Phoenix or Minneapolis.

"The U.S. carriers have left this market; they don't have any presence here anymore, so they have to ramp up from almost nothing, and that doesn't happen overnight," he said.

"The message has been pretty consistent to government: give us a timeline … what are the milestones and thresholds that we have to reach as a country?"

Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, said a slow return of flights to Winnipeg could have a bottleneck effect that hinders local companies who are ready to expand, and tourism operators preparing to welcome customers.

"The fact they're just using the four airports is problematic from a business standpoint," said Davidson.

"We're going to have to work with providers to bring some of those key routes back, because there's going to be an appetite for that sooner than later."

"The fact they're just using the four airports is problematic from a business standpoint." – Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Ottawa would loosen travel restrictions based on metrics such as hospitalization and vaccination rates, but refused to provide targets for either.

"I understand the frustration of people who want certainty," Hajdu said.

"The virus has thrown us a number of curveballs over the last year and a half. I’ll just repeat that we are looking at a variety of metrics," she said.

That didn’t impress the Winnipeg Community Taxi Association.

"It's disappointing for the industry that Winnipeg is not on the list," said group spokesman Joe Masi.

He said local cabbies have lost rides from sports games, large events and especially flights. Some have managed to stay afloat thanks to provincial benefits and the many trips people require for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

"It's disappointing for the industry that Winnipeg is not on the list." – Winnipeg Community Taxi Association spokesman Joe Masi

He’s hoping business travellers, corporate charter flights and travelling families will step up to fill the coming gap.

Ottawa allocated $100 million this spring for the air-travel sector to prepare for a return to normalcy, yet Alghabra gave no indication of when that would start to happen.

"Transport Canada has a restart working group with the industry where we are in regular contact," he said.

"We’re talking about what the expansion of the number of airports is going to look like. We’re talking about testing (and) infrastructure in these airports."

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca