The financial status quo is likely to have consequences for Aéroports de Montréal (ADM): without new ways to raise money, Montréal-Trudeau will not be able to finance its expansion “at the right time” without displeasing the rating agencies. In the hope of convincing Ottawa, the non-profit organization (NPO) has just hired lobbyists – something extremely rare.
Without much fanfare, ADM recently entered the Federal Registry of Lobbyists – where its name did not previously appear – by retaining the services of four specialists. Their mandate essentially concerns matters that revolve around airport charges and the “fiscal relationship” between the federal government and Montréal-Trudeau.
The most recent report from the operator of the Montréal-Trudeau and Mirabel airports provides an overview of the challenges facing the organization. According to the document, one should be able to finance “short, medium and long-term” projects while maintaining an A credit rating – the minimum threshold for a “investment grade” bond – with rating agencies. It’s when the time comes to think about expanding to meet increasingly vigorous demand, especially since the lifting of health restrictions, that there may be problems.
“We must plan them and start work as soon as possible to keep up with the pace, and it is in this sense that a change to the structure to allow the injection of capital becomes necessary”, underlines the director of communications at ADM , Anne-Sophie Hamel, in an email.
In the 1980s, Ottawa decided to transform the airports into NPOs which must pay for the occupation and use of federal lands. In the vast majority of cases, leases are spread over decades (until 2072 for Montreal).
ADM already has several projects on the drawing board. The new parking lot (P4) must be completed and the station that will house the Réseau express métropolitain (REM) must be completed. The organization has also already displayed its colors regarding the repair of the “city side” landing stage. According to its annual report, after 2028, a “series of projects” on the “airside” are planned to increase the capacity of gates and baggage handling.
Time and time again, the organization’s outgoing president and CEO, Philippe Rainville, has repeated that airports should have the right to welcome private investors, such as pension plan managers, who are willing to be patient.
“Sooner or later, the funding model will have to be adapted to the reality of the needs,” he pleaded last May during the public assembly. In the meantime, we are doing the best we can with rigor and good heart. »
According to Ms. Hamel, the NPO retained the services of lobbyists because “the current context lends itself well to it”. It recalls the holding of a summit on the resumption of air transport in November and the launch, by the Federal Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra, of consultations on the airline industry.
“[Minister Omar Alghabra] made several statements indicating that he wanted to make adjustments to the system, without specifying the nature of them,” writes Ms. Hamel.
Professor at UQAM and director of the Observatory of Aeronautics and Civil Aviation, Mehran Ebrahimi believes that Canadian operators find themselves in a kind of “in-between”. They are not the responsibility of states or counties as is the case south of the border and cannot be privatized as in Europe.
“Let’s be pragmatic and demand a tax system that does not result in the financialization of the airport,” says the expert. We do not go to the markets to collect American capital which demands high returns. With patient capital, one can invest and have the time to do so. »
Mr Ebrahimi is not the only observer advocating for change. In a report from the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities tabled in the House of Commons last February, aviation expert and McGill University lecturer John Gradek argued for “private investment.” »
In his view, the time has come to offer an “alternative vehicle” for financing airports, including the “leveraged” and “user-pay” model.