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How the aviation industry’s recovery will take flight in Ottawa


As expanded testing and COVID-19 vaccination campaigns begin around the world, some aviation experts say the airline industry’s previous patterns of recovery offer insights into how carriers are likely to rebuild their flight networks serving Ottawa in the coming years.

Shorter, regional routes are likely to be among the first to be restored as airlines meet demand from visiting friends and relatives, leisure, as well as business passengers resuming travel to familiar, nearby destinations. These routes are also relatively easier for air carriers to scale up as they are typically serviced using smaller aircraft with fewer seats to fill.

Long-haul domestic flights and transborder routes connecting Ottawa with popular destinations, followed by major U.S. hubs will likely be next, then longer-haul overseas routes.

“It’s going to be a gradual build-out,” says Mark Laroche, the president and CEO of the Ottawa International Airport Authority. 

While routes that previously saw daily service may initially return with less frequent flights at first, airlines will add additional capacity to Ottawa as they see more passengers starting or ending their journey in the nation’s capital.

“Aircraft are portable assets, and airlines will deploy them on the routes where they see demand quickly returning,” Laroche says. “During recovery, the more Ottawa residents make use of the routes serving the capital – while respecting public health guidelines regarding travel, of course – the stronger the business case becomes for the carriers to resume more non-stop flights from YOW.”

A nimble response

Since the start of the pandemic, the Ottawa airport and its counterparts across the country have continuously adapted to evolving public health measures by moving quickly to introduce health and safety measures that provide passengers with a consistent experience throughout their journey.

This includes mandatory face coverings, enhanced cleaning protocols, plexiglas shields at check-in counters as well as visual and audio reminders to practise physical distancing.

Those efforts, combined with those introduced by airlines, have paid off. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical officer of health, said in November that there was little to no evidence of COVID-19 transmission among air travellers, which she attributed to enhanced cleaning measures.

Safely serving those passengers who continued to fly – as well as facilitating cargo and essential Ornge ambulance flights – meant many parts of the Ottawa airport’s operations remained busy throughout 2020 and helped maintain the terminal’s readiness to be part of the economic recovery alongside its tourism industry partners.

“Ranging from strict safety and security protocols, to passenger concessions, we have to be prepared for one, 15 or over 100 planes a day,” Laroche says. “Our job is to be ready, responsive and responsible.”