This time final yr, the telephones on the Airport Taxi Service dispatch have been ringing off the hook. 

Enterprise journey, snowbirds heading south and household journeys all meant extra rides to and from the airport. However that is not the case this yr, and it hasn’t been that manner for round eight months now.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left the as soon as thriving cab firm struggling, together with different companies in and across the Edmonton Worldwide Airport. Some have closed their doorways, whereas others let workers go.

The Airport Taxi Service which was established in 2006, had 150 licensed drivers at its top. This yr, that quantity dropped as little as 4. 

“It is like anyone simply turned off the swap,” stated Rob Sterr, Airport Taxi Companies basic supervisor. “Drivers have been simply strolling in and handing of their plates and taking break day work instantly.” 

‘It is like a catastrophe’

Sterr says a few of these drivers have began trickling again, however many are working supply jobs or driving vehicles for firms like Amazon to assist pay the payments. 

Nadeem Bhatti is a type of drivers who left and has since returned. Bhatti, a father of 5, got here again originally of June and works 12 hours a day.

Airport Taxi Service driver Nadeem Bhatti waits for a buyer on the empty arrivals space on the Edmonton Worldwide Airport. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)


“It is like a catastrophe. Folks aren’t travelling,” stated Bhatti, who has been driving for Airport Taxi since 2015. Drivers now typically have to attend 4 or 5 hours for every journey from the airport, Bhatti added.

It is even worse inside. Lineups for safety are non-existent, and plenty of shops have decreased hours or are closed altogether.

“Site visitors again in March mainly went from over eight million passengers a yr to nearly nearly nothing in a single day,” stated Steve Maybee, vice-president of operations and infrastructure for the Edmonton Worldwide Airport. 

“Initially, it was a 96 per cent drop in passengers.”

Maybee says the airport has labored with companies to assist them get by way of this gradual time, however some have simply determined to shut up. 

‘There is not any playbook for this’

Even the airport has closed off elements of the constructing to economize on operations. 

Employees have been let go, and the airport’s precedence is now making the constructing secure and safe for the remaining workers and the restricted passengers who’re flying out and in.

“We have needed to make numerous real-time changes, and there is no playbook for this. We have by no means been by way of something like this earlier than.” Maybee stated.

This presents a scary new actuality for the enterprise homeowners who’ve stayed open too. The Belgian Beer Cafe is one among a handful of eating places nonetheless open for airport workers and the trickle of passengers. 

Earlier than the pandemic, the bar operated with 40 full-time workers. At its low level this yr, that quantity was pared right down to only one.

Cale Inglis, the bar’s proprietor, stated he sat at a desk on the entrance of the restaurant to take orders and would then cook dinner the meals himself when all they have been allowed to supply was takeaway. 

Cale Inglis, proprietor of the Belgian Beer Cafe, stands in entrance of his pub within the departures part of the Edmonton Worldwide Airport. (Min Dhariwal/CBC )


Staffing has returned to round 30 workers now, however quantity continues to be a lot decrease than earlier than. 

“We’re fortunate we’re able the place we are able to kind of tread water for a bit of bit, not lengthy in any respect and once more we’re blissful to have the ability to have some individuals again working,” he stated.

Inglis says the corporate has leaned closely on federal authorities subsidies to assist maintain them afloat, in addition to flexibility from banks and collectors. However he is aware of that will not final. 

On high of that, his firm invested in a Canadian Brewhouse location close to the safety check-in that was presupposed to open final July. Its new goal is 2021.

‘Tiny bits of fine information’ 

The various motels in and across the airport have seen large income decreases from low passenger quantity. And the Renaissance Edmonton Airport Lodge, the one lodge related to the airport, is in survival mode.

“It was actually unhealthy originally, no person teaches you what to do in a single day when your corporation disappears,’ stated David Keam, basic supervisor of the lodge. 

Enterprise on the Renaissance has picked up recently, however solely barely. Snowbirds flying south for the winter often keep an evening within the lodge earlier than departing, and an area mining firm has booked a flooring of rooms each second week. However the lodge has in any other case been utilizing lower than half of its greater than 300-room capability. 

Renaissance Edmonton Airport Lodge basic supervisor David Keam says the lodge has misplaced 80 per cent of its income because the COVID-19 pandemic began final spring. (Min Dhariwal/CBC )

They’ve had enormous layoffs and an 80 per cent lower in revenues, this yr. The lodge’s banquet and occasions enterprise has additionally all however dried up. 

However current information about COVID-19 vaccines has offered a glimmer of hope. 

“Something that may present any sort of optimism, we see it,” stated Keam.

“It is all these little tiny bits of fine information which are finally going so as to add up and get us out of this.”  

That is the hope, however most companies tied to the airport agree getting again to regular, or any vital restoration, may take years.

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