Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 27 seconds.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Kathy Fox was in charge of Canada’s air traffic control system as assistant vice president of air traffic services. When airliners struck the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., she oversaw the complete shutdown of commercial flight in Canada’s airspace.
That blow dealt to Canada’s commercial aviation industry hurt less in retrospect than the gut shot fired by Covid-19, Fox, now chairwoman of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said Dec. 1.
“It’s fair to say that we haven’t seen this kind of dramatic decrease in the industry since September 11, 2001,” Fox told the Helicopter Association of Canada’s annual general meeting, held virtually in 2020. “The effects of 9/11 were nowhere near as deep or prolonged as this pandemic is likely to produce.”
Covid-19 and the ongoing restrictions, disruptions and delays to the aviation industry dominated proceedings at the meeting. HAC president Fred Jones said 2020 “has been the worst year in the history of Canadian commercial aviation and not just for helicopter operators, but for virtually every other commercial air operator across Canada.”
“To say this has been a bad year for the Canadian helicopter industry would be a gross understatement,” Jones added.
Many aircraft have been grounded since the pandemic hit Canada mid-March, just as the commercial helicopter industry was readying for the spring/summer season. Like elsewhere in the world, only essential services like air ambulance and search-and-rescue operations did not come “to a grinding halt,” Jones said.
“Spring training, recurrent training, PPCs, ground schools, flight training, flight testing and all travel stopped,” he said. “Virtually everything stopped. Many contracts and operations, all but essential services, were postponed or canceled altogether.”
There has been a slow return to business as usual, but with a historically slow fire season — with operations 90 percent down compared to a normal year — and ongoing international travel restrictions into Canada and across the U.S. border threatening heliskiing season, the hits keep on coming, Jones said.
“It has become evident to HAC that a significant number of operators in the face of these limitations have either laid up their aircraft, have closed their doors or worse, have gone out of business altogether,” Jones said.
Fox recognized that even though helicopters are again allowed to carry passengers, many sectors like oil-and-gas and VIP transport simply have not bounced back. The return to normalcy, she said, was more difficult to manage safely and took longer after 9/11 than it did to shut it down in the first place.