Canada – US market generates 23 million passengers but none on US LCCs; Air Canada has one-third of market

The average transborder air service between Canada and the USA (Can-Am) is a mere 74-seater and isn’t operated by one of the more adventurous US low cost carriers such as jetBlue or Spirit.

Image: FlagIn 2008 the number of passenger trips between Canada and the US was about 23 million. Based on current OAG schedule data there are 23 Canadian airports with non-stop flights to a total of 60 US airports. At the busiest Canadian airports transborder (Can-Am) traffic to and from the US typically represents just under one quarter of all airport traffic. The leading Canadian airports for US traffic in 2008 were Toronto (8.8 million), Vancouver (4.4 million), Montreal (3.1 million), Calgary (2.4 million) and Edmonton (0.9 million).

On the US side of the border the leading airports with flights to Canada are Chicago O’Hare, Newark, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York LaGuardia, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis/St Paul, Denver and Dallas/Fort Worth. For these airports transborder traffic represents a much smaller share of the total. A closer look at the individual airport pairs reveals that the busiest route is between Toronto Pearson and Chicago O’Hare.

Chart: Top 12 Can-Am Airport
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 4 May 2009

However, if capacity at LaGuardia, Newark and JFK are combined then the Toronto – New York market easily surpasses the Chicago market. For a look at which airlines operate between these cities and how their fares compare see this week’s farewatch.

Seven of the top 12 routes (based on scheduled seat capacity) involve Toronto on the Canadian side of the route while four involve Vancouver. Montreal only manages a single route in the top 12. On the US side the top 12 Can-Am routes involve nine different US airports with Chicago O’Hare, Las Vegas and Los Angeles each appearing twice.

Image: Westjet
February 2009: WestJet samples a connection between Winnipeg and Orlando. WestJet operates 18 US routes versus Air Canada’s 84 – overall Canadian carriers have a 40% market share.

US carriers have over 55% of market but Air Canada is #1

Although Air Canada is by far the biggest airline serving Can-Am routes its scheduled capacity market share is just under one-third. It operates a total of 84 city-pairs between the two countries. When combined with WestJet (18 routes) and Porter (just two routes at present), Canadian carriers have a combined market share of around 40%.

Chart: Top 10 Airlines
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 4 May 2009
Image: Porter airlines
Porter Airlines, based out of Toronto’s downtown harbour airport, only flies two routes (45 weekly flights to Newark and 34 to Chicago Midway) but has plans for several more.

Air Canada’s Star Alliance partner United is the leading individual US carrier. It operates 24 routes from five US airports. American flies non-stop on 16 transborder routes from a total of seven US airports. The combined Northwest/Delta network offers more flights than American but only about the same amount of seat capacity.

It is worth noting that the average aircraft size on flights between Canada and the US is just 74 seats. Only WestJet (the only remotely low-cost airline operating in the market) averages more than 100 seats per flight. None of the more adventurous US LCCs, such as jetBlue or Spirit, operate any routes to Canada.

Transborder traffic down around 10% in 2009

In the first quarter of 2009 Can-Am traffic is down 10.8% at Toronto, down 12.3% in Vancouver and down 9.1% in Montreal. However, in Edmonton transborder traffic was up almost 19% in the first three months thanks to capacity increases from a number of carriers.


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