As we move forward from 2020, Winnipeg Airports Authority is reflecting on the key pillars that helped safeguard Winnipeg Richardson International Airport’s ability to serve the community not only during a pandemic but also, for years to come.
The past twelve months shined a light on the strategies needed to persevere through one of the greatest disruptions in the history of the air transportation industry and still achieve milestones along the way.
The year began with blueprints and a busy terminal. WAA was in a strong financial position and plans were underway for further developing the airport to meet the needs of the region. YWG welcomed 4.5 million passengers the previous year and passenger traffic in early 2020 surpassed forecasted volumes. All the while, it remained imperative to closely monitor a situation evolving around the world.
By the time the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Manitoba, YWG had a comprehensive response plan in place as a result of months of discussions with public health authorities and airport partners. As travellers returned home, the plan helped to protect the entire airport community by promoting health practices, travel advisories and self-isolation requirements. Protective equipment was secured to ensure all frontline workers were prepared for any situation. Thanks to early planning and prudent financial management, WAA was able to explore every measure in the months ahead to do everything possible to protect the community and provide a safe airport environment.
Under the YWG Clean Program, new technology was sourced to disinfect surfaces to the greatest degree, such as an electrostatic sprayer or UV-C LED escalator handrail sterilizers. Touch-free technology also grew its portfolio at YWG with the installation of facial recognition NEXUS kiosks and increased tap limits for parking payments. As the travel experience continued to change with new safety measures coming into effect, YWG kept travellers informed using digital and traditional platforms. But innovation is more than just technology and new inventions; it’s also doing things differently to produce a better result.
YWG saw far fewer passengers in 2020, yet the terminal had to remain open 24/7 to support travellers, including many critical healthcare and industry workers. The terminal was re-envisioned to determine what was needed and what was extra. Cycling lights, shutting down select areas and powering down machines were among the actions taken to lower operating costs – a critical step as low passenger volumes couldn’t generate enough revenue to keep the facility open. But YWG had an integral role to play.
Diverse Business Model
Most people associate passenger flights with YWG. Few think of the medical flights landing from across Canada, cargo planes taking off to move essential goods or the operations of the neighbouring military base. As passenger flights were reduced and the path to recovery was hindered by ongoing travel restrictions, this diverse range of services became increasingly critical, both for financial reasons and to serve the community.
The cargo sector demonstrated its criticality as a North American hub by bringing in PPE shipments and safely delivering the COVID-19 vaccine, in addition to moving essential supplies year round. These operations made up approximately 10 per cent of all airport revenues this past year - a portion heavily relied upon in 2020.
Apart from solely YWG, WAA is made up of group of subsidiaries that help the company grow its impact. In 2020, the subsidiary WASCO gained two new airport management contracts to add to its portfolio of providing aviation services at more than 30 airports across Canada. These services help generate a positive impact in many communities and diversify WAA’s revenue to help ensure sustainability.
Commitment to helping others
Just as it was important to support the diverse functions of the airport in 2020 to connect the community, it was also paramount to find a way to lend a hand, even with fewer funds.
This included donating dozens of advertisement spaces to public health agencies to help spread critical information and supporting Harvest Manitoba for a 24th consecutive year. WAA employees took extra safety precautions to tend the airport campus garden, but knew it was necessary when Harvest Manitoba announced an increase in the demand for food amid the pandemic. YWG also supported one of its longstanding partners, AVentPro, in turning a quiet airport parking lot into a drive-in movie theatre. Thousands of community members enjoyed a safe evening of entertainment and the set up even accommodated a high school graduation ceremony and performances by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. All of this was made possible through donations of time and a team dedicated to serving the community.
These few pillars enabled YWG to adapt to the new COVID-19 reality quickly and maintain its position to play a major role in the region’s social and economic recovery that lies ahead. Although it won’t be an easy path, especially still pending financial support from the government. While readiness and innovation keeps YWG on the pulse of health protocols to minimize potential risk and support safe travel, WAA’s diverse business model and commitment to helping others ensures new opportunities will continue to be explored to serve the community. Never standing still, YWG is ready to navigate 2021, obstacles and opportunities alike.