Canada ready to discuss airline aid, which could include loans

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FILE PHOTO: Canada’s Transport Minister Marc Garneau speaks to media on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, March 9, 2020. REUTERS / Blair Gable

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada is set to begin talks with major airlines this week over financial assistance to the hard-hit sector that could take the form of loans or other support, the Minister of Finance said on Sunday. Transport Marc Garneau.

The government is developing a package of measures for Canadian airlines, airports and the aerospace industry, Garneau said in a statement, confirming an exclusive Reuters story last week.

“As part of this program, we are ready to establish a process with major airlines regarding financial assistance which could include loans and potentially other supports in order to achieve important results for Canadians,” said Garneau.

He said this would ensure regional communities retain their ties with the rest of Canada, the world’s second largest country by area, and added that “strict conditions” would come with any assistance.

Garneau also said Canada will not spend “a dime of taxpayer dollars on airlines” until Canadians receive refunds for flights that have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While several countries, including the United States and Australia, have offered billions of dollars in direct emergency aid to their airlines, Canada has not.

Air Canada AC.TO and WestJet, the two major carriers, and transportation unions have been calling for help for months as passenger demand plummets.

Air Canada has already laid off about 20,000 workers, or about half of its workforce. According to the Canadian Airports Council, passenger traffic in Canada from April to August fell 92% compared to the same period in 2019.

“The airline industry cannot meet these challenges alone, given the unprecedented impacts on its operations,” said Garneau.

Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney

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