B.C. government to provide $27.2M in grants to inter-city bus companies, regional airports

Aviation sector advocates continue to urge the federal government to also provide support for the industry.

The B.C. government will provide $27.2 million in operating grants to the inter-city bus and regional airport sectors, Premier John Horgan announced March 9.

Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry has not banned travel throughout the province but has strongly discouraged it.

“I don’t want to pre-empt her by giving false hope, but we have both, she and I have been saying with some enthusiasm that the summer will be safer this year than last year,” Horgan said.

Inter-city bus companies are now able to apply for $10.7 million in grants, while B.C.’s 57 regional airports are able to apply for $16.5 million in grants.

The airports would be able to use the grants to maintain terminals, runways and other facilities. Bus companies can use the money to make up for lost passenger revenue, and to maintain vehicles.

Horgan explained that the inter-city bus and regional airport sectors have been “particularly hard hit at this time.” He praised them for being resilient and said they merited support because of how important they are to ensure the movement of people and goods throughout the province. 

Companies can submit applications for grants starting today, and the money is for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

Heather Bell, chair of the B.C. Aviation Council thanked the province for the grants but said there is much more to do, particularly by the federal government. 

“When air travel comes back, it’s not coming back as a flood, but it’s going to come back as a tsunami,” she said. “We strongly urge the federal government to follow up on this much needed assistance with further targeted and flexible assistance for the entire aviation industry, so that our industry is strong and ready and able to ride that wave.”

Aviation-sector advocates have long been calling on the Canadian government to provide assistance to the industry, much like national governments have done with domestic airlines around the world.

“It’s at the point where other airlines in the world have been bailed out, or have received assistance packages, but ours haven’t,” Barret Armann, president of Unifor Local 7378, which represents 451 laid-off Sunwing Vacations pilots, recently told BIV.

“If people would like to travel again and not be on a train or a bus, this is extremely important.”

Armann added that a faltering airline sector would mean fewer routes within Canada – something that could hurt the country culturally by encouraging Canadians to think more regionally and limiting exposure to perspectives of people in other parts of the country.

Canadians may increasingly fly on U.S. carriers that have received government bailouts and are therefore able to offer cheaper flights than their Canadian competitors, he said.

Armann said a shift to travel on U.S. carriers could deliver an insurmountable blow to Canadian airlines.

John Wilson, CEO of the Victoria-based charter-bus company Wilson Transport, was at the press conference where Horgan announced the provincial operating grants, and he sounded appreciative. 

“Today’s grant announcement is the life raft, many of us in our industry have been hoping for,” he said. 

Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming said inter-city bus operators are often operating with a 95% reduction in the number of passengers, and that was part of the government’s rationale in deciding to provide the grants. •

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