Airport Activity: Air Carrier Traffic at Canadian Airports, 2022

Release date: July 28, 2023

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Two years after the COVID-19 pandemic brought worldwide air travel to its knees, the Canadian aviation industry continued to recover in 2022. While the number of passengers (117.3 million) enplaned and deplaned at Canadian airports in 2022 was roughly two and a half times greater than the number in 2021, it remained less than three-quarters (72.0%) of the 2019 pre-pandemic level (162.9 million).

In 2022, passenger traffic increased significantly at Canada’s four largest airports. Toronto/Lester B Pearson International, Vancouver International, Montréal/Pierre Elliott Trudeau International and Calgary International each reported roughly twice the passenger traffic from 2021.

Pent-up travel demand takes to the skies

Following measures taken in early 2022 to combat the Omicron COVID-19 variant, travel restrictions were eased in March and completely lifted by October. The unexpected surge in passenger volume during the busy summer travel season left some major airports grappling with challenges largely stemming from staffing.

Volumes increased throughout the year with the number of domestic passengers doubling, up 36.9 million from 2021. Transborder traffic (Canada-United States) and other international traffic both saw large gains as well. The former increased by more than four times (or 16.1 million passengers) and overseas traffic by three and a half times (or 18.0 million passengers) from 2021.

Table 1
Passenger and cargo data
Table summary
This table displays the results of Passenger and cargo data 2021, 2022 and Change 2021 to 2022, calculated using number and percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
2021 2022 Change 2021 to 2022
number percent
Enplaned and Deplaned Passengers
Domestic Segments 34,452,193 71,387,568 107.2%
Transborder Segments 4,816,769 20,880,296 333.5%
Other International Segments 7,011,949 25,031,067 257.0%
Total 46,280,911 117,298,931 153.4%
Loaded/Unloaded Cargo (tonnes) 1,299,220 1,441,394 10.9%

Canada’s busiest airports

In 2022, the four busiest airports accounted for over two-thirds (70.3%) of all passenger traffic in Canada, bolstered by much larger shares of transborder (90.9%) and other international traffic (96.0%).

In another challenging year for the aviation industry, Toronto’s Lester B Pearson International maintained its position as Canada’s busiest airport. Passenger traffic increased 180.8% going from 12.4 million passengers in 2021 to 34.7 million passengers in 2022. Passenger volume growth was strong for all sectors with domestic traffic increasing 113.5%, transborder traffic increasing 293.9% and international traffic increasing 230.3%.

With global aviation beginning to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Vancouver International also experienced a significant increase in passenger traffic in 2022, up 165% to 18.6 million enplaned and deplaned passengers from 7.1 million in 2021. As with Toronto, Vancouver International saw large year-over-year increases in all sectors with domestic, transborder and international traffic up 108.3%, 357.4% and 257.8% respectively.

Regaining its position as Canada’s third busiest airport, Montréal/Pierre Elliot Trudeau International also saw significant increases in passenger traffic. As passengers returned, Montréal Trudeau saw 15.3 million passengers enplaned and deplaned in 2022, up from 5.0 million passengers in 2021. With international travel restrictions lifted, transborder and international traffic was up 304.6% and 267.6% respectively. Of the top four airports, domestic traffic at Montréal increased the most, up 121.4%.

Rounding out the top four, Calgary International saw traffic up 135.6% in 2022, with 13.9 million passengers enplaning and deplaning at the airport. Growth in international traffic among the top four airports was the fastest at Calgary International, with an increase of 297%. Domestic and transborder traffic also saw large year-over-year increases, up 103.2% and 313.7% respectively.

Chart 1 Total enplaned/deplaned passengers

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1 Total , calculated using passengers (millions) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
passengers (millions)
2002 78,229,504
2003 78,391,224
2004 87,799,030
2005 94,605,005
2006 101,677,328
2007 106,433,442
2008 109,360,095
2009 104,765,830
2010 109,099,196
2011 113,471,763
2012 119,197,489
2013 123,909,945
2014 129,868,870
2015 133,426,703
2016 140,892,544
2017 150,808,451
2018 160,641,587
2019 162,185,308
2020 46,349,535
2021 46,280,911
2022 117,298,931

Cargo operators turn to a new ‘business as usual’

Early in the pandemic, some airlines made aircraft modifications and began to operate cargo-only flights. Although many of these temporarily converted aircraft gradually returned to passenger operations, the largest cargo movers expanded both freighter networks and cargo-only fleets while adding new all-cargo services.

Although air cargo business continued to grow in Canada, it was dampened by softening global demand because of a variety of factors: COVID-19’s Omicron variant in Asia, Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine, rising oil prices, inflation, interest rate increases and supply chain disruptions.

Overall, the amount of cargo loaded and unloaded at Canadian airports increased by 10.9% in 2022. Domestic cargo transported by air increased 4.5% from 2021 to 691,000 tonnes in 2022. Transborder cargo fell by 3.5% (to 252,000 tonnes) while other international cargo grew by 32.4% (to 498,000 tonnes).

Despite this continued growth, the annualized increase in quarterly goods revenue earned by the Canadian airline industry slowed to 2.5% in 2022, down from the 30.9% reported in 2021.

Looking ahead

With a surge in travel demand into the busy summer travel season of 2022, passenger traffic levels at Canada’s airports approached full recovery. The higher volume of passengers coupled with ongoing industry labour shortages resulted in long delays and cancellations at some airports. Airlines modified flight schedules to help improve operations.

With a turbulent transition to business as usual in 2022, major airports in Canada are now projecting a full return to pre-pandemic traffic levels in 2023. While airports still face challenges such as managing financial pressures, keeping fees in check and improving passenger experience, the future is promising as tourism spending in Canada continues to rise in early 2023, with air passenger transportation making the largest contribution.

Note to Users

Cargo data

It is important to note that the air cargo data presented does not represent the total cargo loaded and unloaded in Canada. Comprehensive cargo data are not collected for the following reasons:

  1. the regional and local scheduled carriers do not file cargo data on the airport activity survey and,
  2. the major charter survey does not collect data on domestic courier cargo or domestic entity cargo flights.

Passenger flights which carry cargo on them are classified as passenger flights. The cargo carried on these passenger flights is defined as belly-hold cargo. The belly-hold cargo data are included with the pure cargo data in the cargo table, Table 23-10-0254-01.

Services offered by carriers

Scheduled Services

Major Charter Services

Factors which may have influenced the data

For additional contextual information on events affecting air travel, including summaries of selected Canadian economic events, as well as international and financial market developments by calendar month, check out the Canadian Economic News.

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