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Canadian airlines need federal loan of at least $7B to weather pandemic storm: Unifor president

FILE -- An empty Air Canada check-in counter is seen at Montreal-Trudeau International Airport in Montreal, on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. Air Canada says it will cancel all flights to the U.S. after Ottawa extended its border closure with the United States by 30 days. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Unifor president Jerry Dias says he has “no idea” why it’s taking so long for the federal government to announce a desperately needed aid package for airlines, but he says without one, the entire industry is at risk.

“We are at a pivotal point in this discussion,” Dias told 680 NEWS on Thursday. “The industry can’t be sustained.”

Dias said Air Canada is losing around $14 to $16 million a day and those losses are about to increase after it agreed to refund passengers who had their flights cancelled or postponed during the pandemic.

When it comes to federal aid, Dias says there’s no more time to waste.

“The government and the industry need to find a solution yesterday,” he quipped.

Dias says the “floor” of the loan is $7 billion, but he notes “it could go higher than that based on the issue of the cancelled routes (and) consumer reimbursements.”

“I have no idea what is taking so long … we are expecting the deal to be announced shortly but I’ve been predicting that now for quite a while.”

RELATED: Air Canada refunds for cancelled, postponed flights on the way: Unifor

Dias also stresses that what’s being negotiated is a loan, not a bailout. He’s heard it could be at one per cent interest over 10 years, but says the negotiations are ongoing and those numbers could change.

“Right now (the airline industry) is running at about 15 per cent capacity and that’s completely unsustainable for the long-term viability of the industry.”

“I’m expecting (a loan), but I’ve been expecting it for quite a while,” the clearly frustrated union boss said.

“Porter hasn’t flown a plane in months and months and months,” he added. “I know that Sunwing is in deep trouble. I know Air Canada is in deep trouble.”

Dias says he understands why Porter decided to ground its entire fleet, and he worries more airlines could follow suit if help doesn’t come soon.

“The bottom line is it’s cheaper just to ground the planes and that’s why they (Porter) are doing this.”

On Wednesday, Air Canada announced plans to refund passengers for cancelled or postponed flights.

When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the airline referred to a Feb. 12, 2021 statement that indicated discussions with the federal government are ongoing.

“I believe they are reluctant to say anything during the bargaining process,” Dias speculated.

Consumer rights group Air Passenger Rights has estimated that as of Sept. 30, around 3.9 million air passengers, including those with Air Canada, have been denied a refund for flights they did not take.