With climbing vaccination rates and a modest improvement in the COVID-19 situation, Canada’s airlines are looking for some certainty from the federal government when it comes to restarting air travel.

Currently, airlines are charting their courses from a patchwork of restart plans by various provinces and international governments, according to Mike McNaney, president and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC).

“We are trying to bring more capacity back into the market.  We’re trying to bring employees back to work, but we’re doing all that planning ostensibly in a vacuum, absent of a clear federal plan,” says McNaney, adding around 90 per cent of the aviation business has been shut down throughout the pandemic.

“What we’re looking for is a very clear straightforward plan by the government that looks at how other governments and jurisdictions have operated.”

In practice, McNaney says that would take into account various public health metrics, and how those targets would affect travel policy, border restrictions, testing requirements, and others.

A good place to start, McNaney says, would be the government’s own expert panel report, released in May 2021.

That report identified five groups of land and air travellers — fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, non-vaccinated, etc. — and what measures should be taken for each when entering Canada.

A recent report by Mastercard Data and Services shows one-fifth of countries have returned to at least 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels for domestic flight activity.

As of May, however, Canada’s domestic travel lagged quite far behind at 28 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

International travel was even further behind, at 18 per cent.

Meanwhile, that same report shows domestic air travel in the U.S. inched over pre-pandemic levels in mid-May.

International travel was around 75 per cent.

“We have to keep in mind too, that the countries that get their restart correct, that do this properly, they are going to win, they are going to steal market share, investment and jobs from countries that do not do these things properly,” McNaney says.

“Right now we are falling into the latter category, as a result of the piecemeal approach, and we cannot afford to be.”

Ron Pradinuk, a Winnipeg travel consultant, says there’s a pent-up hunger for travel, but it’s difficult for people and businesses to make plans absent a guiding plan.

“The gates are opening, and there are a couple of words out there: desperation travel, revenge travel. It is clear Canadians want to travel, the signs are definitely there,” Pradinuk told 680 CJOB Saturday.

“But you can’t turn around and plan many of these trips overnight.”

Air travel will be spurred, Pradinuk says, but the soon-to-be relaxed quarantine protocols for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents entering the country beginning July 5.

That said, he notes it’s only one piece of the larger travel puzzle.

“Remember, we’re just coming out of this, and for anybody who wants to travel, there takes a bit of planning time,” Pradinuk says.

“For our Canadian tourist product, we really need to know what’s going to happen from the federal government when it comes to overseas and U.S. visitors visiting here, because that quarantine is not yet lifted.”

McNaney says there have been encouraging signs from the federal government about future announcements, but right now they’re largely figuring it out on their own.

“So we are hoping that those announcements will be coming shortly, but on an issue as important and significant economically to every region of the country … we should not be approaching it from this piecemeal perspective,” McNaney says.

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