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New international testing requirements come into effect just as airport traffic showing signs of recovery

The Sault Ste. Marie Airport just completed a refurbishment of its 1960s-era cross-wind runway at a cost of just over $10 million
20210705-Sault Ste. Marie Airport summer stock-DT-01
Sault Ste. Marie Airport. Darren Taylor/SooToday

The Sault Ste. Marie Airport recently reported its two best months during the pandemic, just as new restrictions for people travelling into Canada have come into effect.

A pre-arrival negative molecular COVID-19 test result is required to enter the country as of tomorrow.

“What was announced is ‘what’s old is new again’ because all they have done in this instance is reinstate the test that is required for those who are gone less than 72 hours to the U.S.,” said Terry Bos, president and CEO of the Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corp.

Bos said reinstating the test is just another hurdle people have to jump if they want to travel.

“You do have to be fully vaccinated to travel and you have to have a negative test in order to travel, so it does make travel difficult. When they add on top of that that they are recommending against anybody doing any international travel at this time, it obviously is another negative,” he said.

The new restrictions come into effect just as the Sault Ste. Marie Airport is posting its highest month traffic since before the pandemic.

In October, 8,593 passengers passed through its gates, the highest number since March 2020. November had the second highest number of passengers since before the pandemic at 7,155.

Those figures are still roughly half the monthly average in pre-pandemic times, but Bos said it is nice to see those numbers recovering. 

“October and November were the best months we had since the pandemic started, but we were still only at 45 per cent of our travel levels pre-pandemic,” said Bos. “That obviously has a major impact on the operation when you are working with less than half of what you used to have.”

In contrast, one month after pandemic was called, only 63 passengers moved through the terminal and only 69 followed the month after that.

That passenger traffic is made up of trips by Air Canada, Porter Airlines and Bearskin Airlines.

SunWing discontinued flights in and out of Sault Ste. Marie shortly after the pandemic began.

“Back in March of 2020 Sunwing pulled out obviously when the pandemic started and there were no plans by Sunwing to return to Sault Ste. Marie this winter, so the limitation on the airports that could accept international travel didn’t have an impact on Sault Ste. Marie,” said Bos.

“We hope to attract them again in the future, but it will be a matter of getting the numbers back up and showing that there is a demand for southern destinations in the winter time,” sad Bos. “Some winters we had some really good numbers and some winters we were only putting 50 people on a 180-seat aircraft and that just isn’t going to cut it.”

Bos said the newly reinstated testing requirement is unlikely to change much for the Sault Ste. Marie Airport because most of its traffic is made up of shorter trips.

”We don’t have a large presence of international travel here. My guess would be the majority of our international travel would be people going to European countries more than anything, like Italy since we have a large Italian population here. I am not sure today’s announcement is going to move the bar,” said Bos. “I would say 80 per cent of our traffic is to Toronto anyways, so back and forth to Toronto.”

Last week, the Sault Ste. Marie Airport finished the months-long refurbishment of its cross-wind runway, which was built in 1962, at a cost of just over $10 million.

“It was way overdue. They say the average runway these days lasts 25 years and that one was 60 years old,” said Bos.

The fact that it was still in operation all of those years is a testament to the airport’s maintenance team, said Bos.

“I would put our crack sealing team up against anywhere in the country,” he said. “Even the engineer who came up to look at it when we started the project was pretty impressed with what was done to maintain the runways as long as we have.”

That 6,000-foot runway had new LED lighting and signage installed, and was reduced in width from 200-feet to 150-feet.

“That is plenty wide enough to land anything we plan to get in here, so there’s no issues with our scheduled traffic and no issues if Sunwing were to come back. They would be able to use that runway,” said Bos.