WINNIPEG -- The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on air travel around the world, and Winnipeg was no exception. 

The Winnipeg Airport Authority (WAA) reported a net loss of $40.3 million in 2020, according to Nicole Sefaniuk, WAA vice president of finance and operations.

Stefaniuk said the first couple of months of last year started strong, continuing an upward trajectory of passenger numbers happening since 2017. When the pandemic hit in March and traveller volumes dropped, with the year finishing at 1.3 million travellers passing through the airport, a decrease of over 71 per cent compared to 2019.

“The last time we saw passenger volumes that low was in 1971,” said Stefaniuk.

Pre-pandemic passenger volumes were approximately 12,500 people per day, but after travel advisories were issued and health orders put in place in mid-March, the number of people using the airport dropped to about 250 a day.

Stefaniuk said WAA revenues are directly linked to the number of people using the airport, and those dropped 50 per cent compared to 2019. She said the WAA did introduce measures to reduce operating costs, but many expenses are fixed.

She said the terminal footprint was reduced by about 40 per cent by only using the west side and closing half of the gates. Other cost-cutting measures included reducing the workforce by 20 per cent with layoffs and retirements.

WAA president and CEO Barry Rempel said help is needed in rebuilding Winnipeg’s connectivity. Rempel said the WAA did receive funding from the federal government through ground rent relief and the Emergency Wage Subsidy programs.

“However, all combined, this left us well behind of what is needed and what we have seen in all other countries of the G7,” said Rempel.

Rempel is calling on the federal government to eliminate airport rent until air traffic volume returns, to stimulate safe air travel to revitalize the industry, to modernize the country’s aviation and trade policies, and return international service to the market.

Keys for industry recovery, according to Rempel, include increased vaccinations and testing, which he believes will continue for the next few years.