Air Canada CFO urges looser travel restrictions as PM extends border shutdown

Air Canada CFO urges looser travel restrictions as PM extends border shutdown

MONTREAL — Air Canada’s chief financial officer echoed on Tuesday his boss’s recent call to ease travel restrictions as the airline continues to bleed cash, despite concerns over a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the airline is starting to see “some improvement” in domestic bookings, international flights will only pick up when governments begin to remove barriers such as quarantines, Michael Rousseau told investors at a virtual National Bank event.

“I hate these online meetings. I hate these virtual meetings,” Rousseau said. Colleagues and clients are ”eager to interact” in person, he said, calling the online gatherings ”a loss for everybody.”

“Bookings will only improve…when the government has started to eliminate restrictions,” he added.

Last week, Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu was among more than 130 signatories to an open letter from the travel and tourism industry calling on premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to loosen travel restrictions and roll out targeted quarantines for passengers returning from higher-risk countries.

Leisure travel within Canada has already seen an uptick as interprovincial travel barriers are scaled back, Rousseau said, though several Maritime provinces continue to block province-to-province trips while others discourage them.

He expects domestic business trips to ramp up as early as September, followed by international leisure and business travel, but said the lucrative summer European market is passing the company by this year.

“Summer’s almost past, to some degree. The leisure European markets are summer-based. We’re trying to capture some of that…but that’s probably more into next year,” Rousseau said.

On Tuesday, Trudeau said Canada and the United States will continue to limit non-essential travel between the two countries until at least July 21. Ottawa continues to require passengers returning from abroad to self-isolate for two weeks.

The confirmation came the same day Chinese authorities were reimposing some travel restrictions in the capital as they work to contain a new coronavirus outbreak and prevent it spreading more widely in a country that previously appeared to have largely contained the disease.

Air Canada predicted last month it would bleed about $20 million per day in the second quarter as border shutdowns continue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting the company to furlough nearly 20,000 employees this month.

The airline does not expect passenger numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023, Rousseau said.

The number of international air travellers was down 97 per cent year over year at the start of this month, with passengers on U.S. flights down by 98 per cent on June 7 alone, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2020.

— with a file from The Associated Press

Companies in this story: (TSX:AC)

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