Canada’s busiest airport is more like a parking lot due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on non-essential travel.
As of Friday, more than 60 aircraft for Air Canada and WestJet were inactive at Toronto Pearson International Airport.
“This is my 24th year at Pearson and I have never seen it like this,” said Dean Wright, deputy director of airport doors and flows.
“I can barely say it in words without hearing the noise of the jet engines and not seeing the excitement of the ground crews.”
The airport has created additional parking along its taxiways and de-icing areas. He also has short and long term plans for Canadian airlines.
“As the airlines find out what they are doing with their fleet and their maintenance, we have put together an adaptable program,” said Wright. “Over the past few days, we have seen around 100 devices. “
Some planes could be parked at the airport for up to six months, but will still require regular maintenance.
“From what we’ve been told, each of these planes has to idle and do some checks every seven days, so we have to consider where they are parked,” said Wright.
Air Canada has canceled most of its international and US flights in response to the global pandemic.
WestJet has canceled all transatlantic and US routes until May 4 and has already cut its domestic capacity in half.
Air Transat and Porter Airlines have also suspended all flights.
According to the Greater Toronto Airport Authority, Pearson made an average of 1,200 flights per day before the COVID-19 pandemic. This number has now dropped to an average of 200 flights per day.
“We used to see 230,000 passengers going through Pearson a day and now we see about 5,000,” said Wright.
Although the terminals may be calm, freight operations have increased as essential goods and medical supplies are shipped to and from the airport.
“In a normal week, before the COVID-19 crisis, we expect to see 65 scheduled freight movements per week and on top of that, we expect to see about four other unplanned freight movements per week,” Craig Bradbrook, Vice President of Aviation Services said.
“What we have seen is that four more movements are moving to 35 more freighter movements. “
Historically, 70% of freight at Pearson has been carried on passenger aircraft, but with many passengers idling, this creates a new set of challenges.
“There is a lot of cargo that has not moved, so we are now focusing on cargo planes carrying this cargo,” said Bradbrook.
A number of airlines, including Air Canada, offer passenger aircraft for cargo flights.
Air Canada says its Boeing 787 can carry 35 tonnes of cargo or the equivalent of about 80 grand pianos.
Last week, the airline delivered cargo to nine destinations in Europe and one in Canada.
“Most of the shipments are medical and other urgent items that require transportation,” said Air Canada spokesperson Angela Mah. “We are continuing to explore other opportunities at the national level. “
Air Canada has nine cargo flights scheduled for next week, including four destinations in Asia.
With files from The Canadian Press