Passenger Travel by Airplane, Canada 1970-1995

September 29, 1995

The passenger-kilometres traveled by airplane in Canada increased from 18.6 billion to 72.1 billion between 1970 and 1995 — a spectacular 287.6%. As with automobiles, fewer people rode during the recession of the early 1980s. Unlike the automobile, however, airplane ridership also suffered during the recession of the early 1990s. It would seem that travel by airplane is closely related to economic conditions, and is of a more discretionary nature than travel by the other motorized modes.

Passenger-kilometres Traveled by Airplane


Growth in passenger-kilometres flown was most pronounced during three separate peak periods: from 1972 to 1974, when pkm grew an astounding 34.6%; from 1978 to 1980, when it grew 22.7%; and from 1994 to 1996, when it grew 22.1%.

Deregulation of the industry seems to be one reason why airline ridership grew so rapidly during these periods. The growth in ridership between 1978 and 1980 coincided with the rules governing passenger airlines in Canada and the USA being relaxed. Beginning in 1978, Canadian charter airlines were allowed to compete with scheduled carriers for the transcontinental market; and in 1979, all capacity restraints on CP Airlines were removed, allowing for freer competition with the government-owned carrier, Air Canada.(1) The passage of the American Airline Deregulation Act in 1978 meant that air travel in the USA was being deregulated simultaneously, and even more aggressively. There was suddenly good reason for Canadians to fly to nearby American airports (Buffalo, Seattle): to take advantage of cheaper connecting flights.

In 1988, the remaining regulations on the passenger airline industry in Canada were removed. In response, pkm traveled by air grew a spectacular 13% over 1987 levels. While years of much slower growth were to follow, they were at an already elevated level.

The share of travel done by airplane has risen almost every year since 1970. In the process, the airplane’s importance to passenger travel in Canada has nearly doubled, from a market share of 8.9% in 1970 to a market share of 15.2% in 1995.

Market Share of Airplane among Motorized Modes

For analyses of other modes, or for an overview of the trends in the modal split between 1970 and 1995, click on…


Airlines & Airports

Intercity Bus

Public Transit


The following may also be of interest: Urban Transport


1. Statistics Canada (1993), Aviation in Canada: Historical and Statistical Perspectives on Civil Aviation.

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