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Monthly civil aviation statistics, April 2020

Released: 2020-06-30

Highlights

April was a disastrous month for aviation in Canada and around the world, as air travel stopped almost entirely because of border closings and travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The major Canadian airlines carried only 213,000 passengers on scheduled and charter services in April, down 97.0% from April of 2019—the largest year-over-year decline ever recorded.

As a result, air traffic plunged to 436.6 million passenger-kilometres, pushing operating revenues down 92.9% to $136.6 million in April.

Since 2015, passenger load factor—the ratio of passenger-kilometres to available seat-kilometres—has remained near or above 80% unlike March (64.6%) and April (26.0%) of 2020.

Challenging times ahead

These are unprecedented times for the airline industry as many Canadian carriers have significantly scaled back operations, while others have suspended all flights. Revenue sources are now limited to a reduced domestic market, along with some transportation of goods.

The airline industry continues to suffer from lockdown measures and even as restrictions are lifted, there is some uncertainty as to how quickly consumers will return. Unlike past downturns, the International Air Transport Association feels it may take more time for air traffic to reach pre-pandemic levels.

Comparison to past downturns

The current slowdown caused by COVID-19 is unlike past downturns in terms of the impact on the air transportation industry. In 2003, for example, the SARS outbreak had a significant and negative effect on the travel and tourism sectors. Focusing on May 2003—the month with the largest decline in that year—the number of passengers decreased 26.0% compared to the same month in the previous year.

The Canadian airline industry was also affected by the terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2001. That month saw a 26.0% reduction in the number of passengers compared with September 2000. Prior to the current pandemic, these two downturns were the largest declines in the number of passengers recorded in the monthly civil aviation statistics.

Infographic 1  Thumbnail for Infographic 1: Disruptions to the Canadian airline industry
Disruptions to the Canadian airline industry

Air passenger demand comes to a standstill in April

The seven Canadian Level I air carriers flew just 213,000 passengers on scheduled and charter services in April, down 97.0% compared with April 2019, when there were six carriers. This follows a 44.1% decrease in March, and is the largest year-over-year monthly decline ever recorded. Operating revenue for these airlines totalled $136.6 million in April, down 92.9% from the same month a year earlier.

After a 45.0% drop in March, traffic or output plummeted 97.6% year-over-year to 436.6 million passenger-kilometres in April. With fewer international flights, each passenger travelled an average of 2,054 kilometres, down 19.6% from April 2019. The volume of turbo fuel consumed decreased 88.7% to 72.4 million litres, while the number of flying hours fell 90.7% to 17,000 hours. In April, capacity contracted 92.1% to 1.7 billion available seat-kilometres.

With the decline in demand for air travel larger than the decrease in capacity, along with the introduction of physical distancing measures on board, the passenger load factor (26.0%) was down significantly in April from a year earlier (84.8%).

Chart 1  Chart 1: Passengers carried, Canadian air carriers, Level I
Passengers carried, Canadian air carriers, Level I

Chart 2  Chart 2: Passenger load factor, Canadian air carriers, Level I
Passenger load factor, Canadian air carriers, Level I

Chart 3  Chart 3: Turbo fuel consumed, Canadian air carriers, Level I
Turbo fuel consumed, Canadian air carriers, Level I


  Note to readers

The Monthly Civil Aviation Survey covers all Canadian Level I air carriers: Air Canada (including Air Canada Rouge), Air Transat, Jazz, Porter, Sky Regional, Sunwing and WestJet (including Swoop, WestJet Encore and WestJet Link).

The number of air carriers increased from six in 2019 to seven in 2020, as one Level II air carrier was reclassified to Level I.

The average passenger trip length is obtained by dividing the number of passenger-kilometres by the number of passengers. Trips across Canada and across the globe are included in this calculation.

Data in this monthly release are not seasonally adjusted.

Data for April 2019 have been revised.

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).

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