MONTREAL (Reuters) – Air Canada <AC.TO> is seeing improved domestic bookings, but expects international flights to only pick up if governments relax travel restrictions introduced to curb the spread of coronavirus, the airline’s chief financial officer said on Tuesday.
“I think you’re seeing across the industry improvements in bookings and certainly at Air Canada we’re seeing that as well,” CFO Michael Rousseau told a National Bank event for analysts and investors. “But that’s focused primarily on domestic business, point to point within Canada.”
Canada’s largest carrier, along with tourism groups, have asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to relax restrictions, like requirements for a 14-day quarantine.
Trudeau said on Tuesday, the non-essential travel ban between Canada and the United States has been extended to July 21, confirming a Reuters story from last week.
Rousseau says he expects it will take at least three years to return to 2019 traffic levels before the pandemic even as the carrier accelerates retirements of older E190s, B767s and A319s.
Nevertheless, he sees green shoots among domestic leisure flights, which are coming back first. He hopes business travel returns after the summer as corporate clients return to their offices.
Air Canada shares were up 4.2% by the afternoon, while the benchmark Canadian share index was up 1.2%.
Rousseau said the desire to meet clients face-to-face, combined with Air Canada’s loyalty program, will help drive demand for business travel, despite companies’ current practice of working from home.
Asked about United Airlines <UAL.O> pledging its frequent flyer program for a new loan to buffer its liquidity, and whether such an option would be available to Air Canada, Rousseau said he thinks any airline is going to keep “every door open.”
Rousseau declined to comment on its planned C$720 million ($532.39 million) purchase of tour operator Transat AT <TRZ.TO>, which is awaiting regulatory approval in Canada and Europe.
(Reporting By Allison Lampert; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)