Routes Americas 2021: ACI-NA on State of the Airport Industry in the Americas

Matthew Cornelius, Executive Vice President, Airports Council International (ACI) – North America, discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the airport business in the Americas and the path to recovery.

In the US, the forecast for 2021 is expected to significantly improve, driven by the combination of a fast-recovering domestic market and strong vaccination rate.

Airports and airlines are united in the call for governments to partner with the industry to prepare to restart global connectivity when the epidemiological situation allows, and the unprecedented global vaccination effort offers a beacon of hope that a return to normality is a possibility in the near future.

In the Routes Americas 2021 conference, Matthew Cornelius, Executive Vice President, Airports Council International (ACI) – North America, discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the airport business in the Americas and the path to recovery.

“This has been an extraordinarily difficult time for our industry,” he began. “In a lot of ways this pandemic has been a great equaliser – no country or airport was spared the lowest depths of this experience. But pulling out of the COVID experience has exposed dramatic differences in the impact of policy on the airport industry and aviation as a whole.”

Cornelius explained that, in the US, the vaccination campaign and the relaxation of state and local restrictions has sprouted an impressive resurgence, particularly in domestic leisure traffic. “In Canada it’s a very different story, which is down to the impact of policies. National, local and provincial restrictions have remained in place, and the result has been devastating to the industry and the national mobile economies. Our Canadian members are looking at 2021 being a worse year than 2020, with most airports down 90% on 2019 traffic levels.”

From a national perspective, the recovery has been very uneven in the US. Cornelius noted that vacation markets with great outdoor activities are experiencing a high number of new services, while there is also a tie-in to less restrictive COVID policies.

He added that the impact of COVID on the financial wellbeing of airports in the US and Canada cannot be overstated. “Our most recent forecast for the two-year period from March 2020 to March 2022, is $40 billion in lost revenue for US airports, and $5.5 billion for Canadian airports,” said Cornelius. “In the US, we’ve been very thankful for the support of Federal Government. Securing $20 billion in relief money has kept airports afloat, has kept people employed, and has ensured airports can serve their communities as economic engines for the recovery.”

Meanwhile, the Canadian Government has not supported the airlines or the airports. “For airports, sustaining their businesses through a 90% downturn is going to be difficult. It’s time for the Canadian Government to step up and support them.”

Cornelius concluded by calling on the US and Canadian governments to move forward on finding ways to reopen the borders with each other and the rest of the world. “It’s about facilitating the global economy and reconnecting families, and it needs to happen now. The US has the opportunity, as the birthplace of aviation, to be the leader in the recovery.”


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