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The Canadian federal government this week says it is waiving rent payments for the country’s largest airport authorities so that they can redeploy that money to support operations crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To help airports reduce cost pressures and preserve cash flow as they deal with the effects of COVID-19 on their revenue, the government is waiving rents paid on ground leases for the 21 airport authorities that form part of the National Airport System and that pay rent to the government,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau says in a statement announcing the move.

The airport authorities receiving the waiver include Aeroports de Montreal, Vancouver International Airport Authority, Edmonton Regional Airport Authority,  Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport Authority and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority.

The rent waivers runs from Mach through December, and Garneau says the government is also providing comparable treatment for PortsToronto, which operates Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ).

“This will allow them to redeploy cash to help maintain their operations and to support recovery strategies,” Garneau adds. “This approach is consistent with actions taken to support the sector during previous major disruptions, such as the SARS outbreak in 2003.”

Daniel-Robert Gooch, Canadian Airport Council (CAC) president, quickly praised the rent waiver, but says more is needed, especially for the dozens of Canadian airports that won’t benefit from the rent waiver.

“This is an important first step for airports with big rent checks coming due, and Canada’s airports welcome the federal government’s moves to quickly address this matter,” he says. “We have had very good engagement with Transport Minister Garneau and his officials and we appreciate his commitment to continued engagement with airports and our partners in the sector, as this is really just a first step.

Airport ground rent is a Canadian federal charge that 21 privately operated not-for-profit airports pay to government. Like a tax, it is calculated as a percentage of gross revenues. Airport rent was a CA $412 million (US $288 million) cost to Canada’s airports last year, 97 percent of which is paid by the eight busiest airports.

“But given that revenue has dropped dramatically since COVID-19 began, airport rent will only help so much to make up for lost cash flows and does nothing at all to help airports that pay little or no rent — which is the majority of commercial airports in the country,” Gooch adds.

Joyce Carter, chair of the Canadian Airports Council and  president and CEO of the Halifax International Airport Authority, also praises the rent waiver, but says additional federal help is needed to offset reduced cash flow. Carter calls for the federal government in the coming months to support aviation’s role in stimulating the CA $90 billion (US $63 billion) travel and tourism sector in Canada once the disruptions caused by the pandemic have ended.

“We are on the right track but for the sake of our travelers, communities and the economy, the federal government must move quickly to introduce economic measures to help guarantee the long-term viability and resiliency of Canada’s airports,” she says.