Air Canada CEO pleads with Trudeau government to let airlines fly again

Canada should loosen travel restrictions and “enable us to do some reasonable amounts of business,” the head of Air Canada said.

Chief Executive Officer Calin Rovinescu said the Canadian government’s rules on travellers are now “disproportionate” as the COVID-19 pandemic eases in many regions.

Most international flights have been cancelled and the U.S.-Canada border has been shut to all but essential travel since March 21. That could be extended past the planned June 21 expiry, the CBC and Reuters reported this week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has enacted a mandatory 14-day quarantine on anyone returning to the country, even if they have no symptoms. Some provinces have even barred entry by Canadians living in other provinces.

Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu.

Marta Iwanek for National Post files

“These emergency measures need to be introduced with a certain sense of proportionality,” Rovinescu said Thursday on a webcast with Aviation Week.

The growth in COVID-19 cases and deaths has slowed in most of Canada and provinces have lifted many pandemic restrictions on businesses. Canada is closing in on 100,000 cases with almost 8,000 deaths.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Years to Recovery

Airlines are pushing back after months of limitations on travel. A move by the U.K. government to force a quarantine rule on incoming travellers sparked an uproar, with carriers including British Airways parent IAG SA saying they’ll mount a legal challenge.

Air Canada has cut 20,000 jobs and said it does not see a return to 2019 levels of revenue and capacity for at least three years — an outlook Rovinescu reiterated on Thursday. To weather the storm, it has raised new equity and debt and expanded cargo services, but it has not tapped into an emergency loan program from Ottawa.

The airline said last month it expects capacity in the third quarter to be 75 per cent lower than in the same period last year. Bookings reached a bottom in April and the first two weeks of May and have been improving since then, Rovinescu said Thursday.

The company’s shares were down 9.4 per cent to $17.67 at 12:20 p.m. in Toronto as global markets tumbled on concerns about a second wave of the pandemic, bringing their decline to about 63 per cent this year.

In response to a comment that the border restrictions have worked out reasonably well, Rovinescu said: “I can tell you one thing. It did not work OK for the 20,000 people who have been laid off.”

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