Air Canada Hopes COVID-19 Test Could End Canadian Quarantine

Air Canada wants to run its own voluntary COVID-19 testing program to encourage the unwinding of onerous border restrictions. The airline plans to set up testing stations for arriving passengers. They want to use these tests to help persuade Canada’s Government to relax its ban on most international arrivals.
Air Canada will begin voluntary testing of international arrivals in Toronto in September. Photo: Air Canada Newsroom

Tough border controls hit Air Canada hard

Canada is barring entry at its borders to all but essential travelers and Canadian citizens. Those select few allowed in must then self isolate for 14-days. But the restrictions, which have been in effect since March, are hitting Air Canada hard.

Air Canada’s second-quarter 2020 results noted year on year passenger numbers were down 96%. In addition, year on year total revenue was down 89%, and the airline posted an operating loss of US$1.18 billion across the quarter.

Air Canada’s CEO, Calin Rovinescu, called it an impossible operating environment.

“Canada’s federal and inter-provincial restrictions have been among the most severe in the world, effectively shutting down most commercial aviation in our country,” he said in a statement seen by Simple Flying.

But the Canadian Government is showing scant interest in relaxing border restrictions. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he will continue to do what needs to be done to keep people safe. But Air Canada wants a smarter, more science-based approach to border restrictions. The airline thinks you can walk and chew gum at the same time by allowing some movement while keeping people safe.

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Air Canada COVID-19 Tests
Air Canada wants border restrictions eased as sees COVID-19 testing as a way to achieve this. Photo: Air Canada Newsroom

Air Canada to set up COVD-19 testing station in Toronto

Air Canada Chief Financial Officer Michael Rousseau spoke at a Raymond James conference on Tuesday. Raymond James is a Florida based investment bank. Mr Rousseau told the conference Air Canada was working with Toronto’s Pearson Airport. The airline plans to begin offering voluntary COVID-19 tests to passengers arriving in Toronto from September 7.

Following the airport test, there would be two further tests while the passenger self isolates. A Raymond James analyst said in a followup note cited in The New York Times;

“The data collected will convince the government to take more of a science-based approach with the 14-day quarantine requirement waived or reduced for those with successful negative tests.”

Air Canada hopes that the initiative will demonstrate to the Canadian Government that there are alternative ways of managing COVID-19.

Air Canada COVID-19 Tests
Are COVID-19 airport testing stations, like this one in Frankfurt, the way forward? Photo: Lufthansa Newsroom

Are COVID-19 airport testing stations the way forward?

In the absence of a vaccine, testing regimes may offer the best way forward for travel to resume and border restrictions to relax. Airports and airlines are beginning to roll testing stations out. But, as previously reported in Simple Flying, these initiatives operate in isolation rather than as part of a formal inter-governmental framework.

But Air Canada clearly thinks it needs to get on the front foot and take the initiative here. The airline has adopted rigorous cleaning procedures across aircraft operating those flights still running. In addition, Air Canada is involved in various medical collaborations to tackle the COVID-19 threat.

These collaborations include working with the Toronto-based Cleveland Clinic Canada, BlueDot, and Spartan Bioscience to explore airport-friendly rapid COVID-19 testing procedures.

Air Canada has a vested economic interest in getting border restrictions relaxed. But the airline joins an increasing number of businesses and organizations worldwide calling for a more science-based approach to border restrictions. They argue we must learn to manage the spread of COVID-19 better while getting people moving again.