Canada’s major airlines relatively well-positioned for coronavirus fallout: experts

MONTREAL — Canada’s major airlines are relatively well-positioned to weather the financial storm that has been unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but regional players may find it tougher to stay afloat, experts say.

Air Canada, which is laying off more than 5,100 flight attendants and suspending most of its routes abroad by the end of the month, has a $7.3-billion cushion to fall back on — more than the most profitable U.S. carrier, Delta Air Lines.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. has halved its domestic capacity and cancelled all overseas and U.S. routes for 30 days. The carrier has posted quarterly profits for 14 years straight, with the exception of one quarter in 2018. It is also shielded from stock market judgment after Onex Corp. acquired it in December and the company was delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Executives and lobbyists are pressing Ottawa daily for relief. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced an $82-billion aid package to help Canadians get through the novel coronavirus outbreak, none of the funding is so far earmarked for airlines.

Some countries have already tossed their carriers a financial lifeline. Norway is preparing a loan to its aviation sector worth $736 million, with about half going to the country’s largest carrier, Norwegian. New Zealand has offered Air New Zealand $360 million in loans.

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