Canada is a vast country, and airlines play a crucial part in connecting people domestically and internationally. The airline industry also makes an important contribution to the country’s GDP and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs.

However, airlines in Canada and across the globe were one of the most affected businesses when COVID-19 prevented travelling within the country and across borders. Many airlines were operating at a loss and for two years, the expenses in the industry were higher than the income.

In this article, we look at the latest available statistics on the airline industry in Canada. You will find statistics on passenger numbers, employment figures, and the most frequent passenger routes from Canada among the statistics. We have also included a look ahead for the aviation industry in Canada.

Airline Industry Statistics for Canadians

  • In 2019, Canadian airline operators carried 94.1 million passengers.
  • Because of COVID-19, Canadian air carriers flew only 28.4 million passengers in 2020.
  • 2021 was another difficult year for the airline industry, with expenses almost $3 million higher than operating revenue.
  • The Canadian airline industry began to recover in 2022, with 68.2 million passengers flying with Canadian airline operators.
  • Toronto Pearson International Airport is the busiest airport in Canada with over 35 million passengers in 2022.
  • 241,000 people work in the airline industry in Canada.
  • The airline industry contributes over 3% of Canada’s GDP.
  • Almost three-quarters of airline passengers to Canada arrive from North America.
  • Air transport in Canada is expected to grow by 51% in the next 20 years.
  • Cargo traffic to and from Canadian airports grew by almost 11% in 2022.

Airline Industry in Canada

In 2022 and 2023, the airline industry has had a chance to recover following a very challenging two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, passenger numbers were still lagging behind pre-pandemic figures but more passengers flew last year than in the previous two years put together.

To fully understand the impact of the pandemic on the airline industry, we need to look at numbers from before the pandemic, during, and after.

Airline Industry in Canada Before COVID-19

In 2019, before COVID-19 stopped travel, 94.1 million passengers were transported on Canadian air carriers. This was a 0.8% increase compared to 2018 and was the 10th consecutive year when passenger numbers were up.

Domestic air travel grew by 0.2% to 48.8 million passengers and international air travel by 1.5% to 45.4 million passengers. On average, Canadian air passengers travelled 2,477 kilometres, totalling 233.2 billion passenger kilometres. The average trip in 2019 for domestic flights was 2,477 kilometres and 3,808 kilometres for international flights.

The net operating income was $2.2 billion and the operating revenue was $29.5 billion. In a year, the net operating income grew by $334.7 million, while the operating revenue grew by 5.4%. However, operating expenses grew simultaneously by 4.5% to $27.3 billion. 87.3% of the total operating revenue came from passenger revenue. In 2019, prices were 5.7% higher than in 2018.

Airline Industry in Canada in 2020 

In 2020, Canadian airline operators carried only 28.4 million passengers, which was only 30.2% of the number of passengers in 2019. The number of domestic passengers decreased by 66.4% to 16.4 million and international passengers by 73.4% to 12.1 million. Passenger kilometres fell to 62 billion, a 73.4% fall, and the average distance per passenger was 2,182 kilometres.

The operating revenue fell by 58.5% to $12.2 billion. This was only 41.4% of what it was in 2019. Despite an increase in cargo revenue, the net operating income decreased by more than $5 billion. The increase in cargo revenue was 20% and reached $2.1 billion.

Because of the pandemic restrictions, many airlines suspended or drastically reduced the number of flights. The number of scheduled flights fell by 71% to 26.5 million. As a result, passenger revenue was only $8.7 billion, a 66.1% decrease from 2019.

In 2020, the operating expenses were higher than the operating revenues at $15.1 billion compared to $12.2 billion. This meant that to make $1.99, air carrier operators in Canada had to spend 1.24.

The pandemic also reduced the number of jobs within the airline industry. In Canada, the number of employees fell to 47,304, which was 32.7% fewer employees than in 2019. As a result, the wage expenses fell by 31.1% to $3.5 billion.

Airline Industry in Canada in 2021

Despite many restrictions being lifted during 2021, the pandemic continued to affect the airline industry in 2021. Passenger revenue was $8.1 billion, a decrease of 68.5% compared to before the pandemic, despite some airlines restoring more routes in the latter half of 2021 as travel restrictions were eased.

Only 26 million passengers travelled on Canadian air carriers, a 7.3% drop compared to 2020. It was only 27.6% of the airline passengers in 2019. 18.5 million passengers took domestic flights and 7.5 million international flights in 2021. These figures were 62.1% and 83.4% lower than the 2019 passenger figures. 52.4 billion passenger kilometres were recorded in 2021, with an average of 2,104 kilometres per passenger.

Operating revenue was only $12.5 billion, 57.8% less than before the pandemic. Net operating income was $5 billion less than in 2019, despite an increase of $50.5 million from 2020. Cargo revenue continued to do well in 2021 and was up 68.3% compared to 2019. Operating expenses were $15.3 billion, almost $3 billion more than the revenue.

Employment figures in 2021 were very similar to the previous year, with 45,278 people employed by the industry. There was a slight increase in wages paid in 2021 when they totaled $3.6 billion.

Airline Industry in Canada in 2022

Things were certainly looking up for the Canadian airline industry in 2022, with passenger numbers increasing to 68.2 million. This was over 2.5 times the number of passengers in 2021. However, it was still lower than before the pandemic and represented 72.4% of passengers carried by Canadian airline operators in 2019.

36.1 million passengers flew domestically and 32 million internationally in 2022. Although much improved from the previous two years, passenger numbers were still 26.1% (domestic) and 29.4% (international) lower than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The total distance of 168.7 billion kilometres travelled by airline passengers on Canadian carriers was more than three times the total in 2021 and 72.3% of the total in 2019. The average distance per passenger was 2,474 kilometres.

Operating revenue in 2022 was $27.8 billion, just 6% below the revenue from 2019. Operating expenses were $27.6 billion, which was close to the pre-pandemic amount. As more passengers returned to air travel, the airlines hired more staff. The number of employees in 2022 was only 9.5% lower than in 2019. Salary expenses in 2022 were 20.2% higher than before the pandemic.

Busiest Airports in Canada

The busiest airport in Canada is the Toronto Pearson International Airport. In 2022, 35.6 million passengers travelled through the airport. A welcome increase of approximately 180% to just 13.3 million passengers in 2020. Domestic traffic increased by 113.5%, transborder traffic by 293.9%, and international traffic by 230.3%. 14.3 million passengers took domestic flights and 21.3 million took international flights from Toronto in 2022.

The airport in Toronto is followed by Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, and Edmonton airports. Vancouver Airport saw 18.6 million passengers in 2022, compared to 7.1 million in 2021. The total passenger traffic was up by 165%, with domestic traffic up 108.3%, transborder by 357.4%, and international by 257.8%.

In Montreal, the passenger numbers went up from around 5 million to close to 16 million. Montreal saw the biggest increase in domestic passengers at 121.4%. Transborder traffic was up 304.6% and international traffic 267.6%.

Calgary had 14.5 million and Edmonton had 5.8 million passengers in 2022. Calgary saw the fastest growth in international traffic at 297%. In total, the five busiest airports in Canada accounted for around three-quarters of all passenger traffic.

The Airline Industry in Canada Employs over 240,00 People

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the Canadian airline industry employs 241,000 people directly. However, it supports many more jobs indirectly through tourism and supply chains.

Approximately 190,000 are supported by the airline industry in tourism and 146,000 in supply chains. Indirect jobs include employees in airport on-site enterprises, such as retail and restaurants, aircraft manufacturing, and air navigation service providers.

The Airline Industry Supports 3.2% of Canada’s GDP

The airline industry contributes approximately 3.2% of Canada’s GDP. Around $50.5 billion comes from the air transport industry, which includes the airlines and the supply chain. Another $16.3 billion comes from spending by foreign tourists. In total, the contribution is around $66.8 billion.

The Busiest Routes to and from Canada

Most tourists arrive in Canada from the United States, followed by the United Kingdom and China. France and Germany complete the top five countries for tourists. The busiest direct flight arrivals are from the United States, Mexico, Cuba, the United Kingdom, and China.

47,895 million passengers arrived from North America, representing 75.2% of the total number of arrivals. 5,860 million passengers came from Europe and 4,680 from Asia-Pacific, representing 9.2% and 7.4% of the total.

The busiest cargo routes to Canada are from China and the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan.

Cargo Traffic

The amount of loaded and unloaded cargo at Canadian airports grew by 10.9% in 2022. International cargo grew the most at 32.4% to 498,000 tonnes, while domestic air cargo increased by 4.5% to 691,000 tonnes. The amount of transborder cargo by air fell in 2022 by 3.5% to 252,000 tonnes.

The Look Ahead for the Airline Industry in Canada

It is predicted that air transport will grow by 51% over the next twenty years in Canada based on the trends before and since the pandemic. If the forecast proves accurate, it would mean almost 40 million additional passenger journeys by 2037. That would support over 800,000 jobs and over $100 billion of GDP. Large Canadian airports are expecting a return to pre-COVID-19 levels this year.

Conclusion

After two very difficult years when the COVID-19 pandemic grounded most of the flights, the airline industry in Canada has had a chance to recover. Although the figures were still below 2019 in 2022, they were significantly improved compared to 2020 and 2021.

Toronto has Canada’s busiest airport followed by Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, and Edmonton. All these airports saw much higher passenger numbers in 2022 than during the pandemic years. The employment figures were also edging closer to the pre-pandemic figures.

Based on the current trends, not including the pandemic years, air transport will see a 51% increase over the next twenty years.

Frequently Asked Questions

The revenue in 2022 from scheduled flights was $26.6 billion thanks to 185.1% growth following the pandemic.

The busiest airport in Canada is Toronto Pearson International Airport. In 2022, over 35 million people travelled to or from the airport. The next busiest airports are in Vancouver and Montreal.

The airline industry employs over 240,000 people in Canada. However, it supports more than 600,000 jobs indirectly through, for example, supply chains, restaurants, and retail at airports.

Sources