Aviation Will Come Roaring Back!

Vintage art from the dawn of the jet age is a hint at what has been lost. When will Canadians be free to travel again? 

By Ted Nickerson
In 2019, major international aviation agencies (ICAO, IATA) predicted that global passenger volumes would double by 2037.  Annual passenger growth had been healthy, and all looked well.  That changed in early 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Cities, regions, and even countries went into lock-down.  Borders closed.  Aviation commercial passenger volumes crashed.  Airlines had no choice but to park their fleets.  Locally, Toronto Pearson International Airport reported that its April 2020 traffic had dropped by 96 percent compared to its April 2019 volume.

The questions arise – will aviation passenger traffic recover? When will it recover?  Some even asked should it recover?

The commercial aviation industry is a highly resilient industry, and has recovered strongly from all previous assaults upon it, whether pandemic or financial.  It will recover very quickly from this COVID attack.

As evidence, look at Toronto Pearson International Airport’s 42-year passenger history.  Over this period, annual passenger growth has averaged approximately 3.5 percent, even with four major health-financial disruptions.  True, passenger growth was delayed, but the pace of recovery after each negative event was strong.

Source: Statistics Canada

To the question, “When will it recover?”, there are many opinions circulating.  On May 30, 2020, the Canadian Club Toronto held a webcast with representatives of the airline industry.  The most pessimistic outlook was that domestic and trans-border traffic would recover to the 2019 level in 3-4 years, with international travel taking 5-7 years.  The airline participants, Air Canada, American Airlines, Sunwing, were more optimistic at 3-4 years, or even as fast as 12-18 months if a vaccine is available.

In March 2020, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicted that North American passenger traffic numbers would return to the 2019 level in 2022.  Revenue passenger kilometers would take another year (2023) to recover.  A nice way of IATA saying that in 2022, as many people will be taking flights as they did in 2019 … they just won’t be travelling as far until they are satisfied the COVID risk is acceptably low.

In May 2020, ICF, a respected international aviation consultancy, predicted the USA would return to its 2019 passenger volumes in four years, i.e. 2023.

Chart by Brian Pearce, IATAs Chief Economist. He updated his prediction on 13th May Reaffirming a 2022-2023 return to 2019 levels.

There are individuals and groups that think COVID-19 presents further justification besides climate change to curtail commercial passenger travel, e.g. “Stop Flying”, while ignoring the fact that advances in aviation technology have turned flying into the safest, fastest and often the most carbon emissions-efficient mode of travel available between many Canadian cities and internationally. The idea that Canadians will fly less is just wishful thinking (or virtue signalling) on their part.  It’s not going to happen.

Businesses and societies in general are more internationally connected than ever before. The need, desire and opportunity to travel will continue to grow.  COVID-19 is just a detour that will be overcome.

So, based on limited information and the current state of COVID recovery in Canada and globally, 3 years (2022) to return to 2019 passenger performance is a reasonable but interim position to assume.

The logic suggests Canadian domestic will return first, then trans-border, then international.  Then again, the current COVID mess south of the border might get Canadians thinking of Europe or Asia before the USA.

No one is bold enough currently to predict the pace of growth once passenger travel recovers to the 2019 level.  However, if the Toronto Pearson passenger historical trend repeats itself, GTA commercial passenger growth could return to its robust pre-COVID rate.

The determinants of a person’s return to aviation travel are fairly simple.  First, safety – what are the COVID conditions at the desired destination?  If there is a high risk of infection, no one is going to travel there.  Next, what activities will be permitted at the destination?  If businesses, restaurants, malls, vacation venues etc. are closed, or there are quarantine requirements, again, nobody is going there.  Lastly, is there a COVID-19 vaccine?  There isn’t one today but if there is one soon, all doors to renewed air travel will be wide open.

COVID will challenge airport capacity, possibly taking the form of airlines using smaller aircraft (more narrow body vs. wide body) to reduce passenger exposure per flight offset by increased aircraft movements. Passengers will return, and growth will resume.  The at-airport and onboard-aircraft experiences will be quite different with changes targeting passenger, employee and flight crew safety.

Regardless of COVID, the Pickering Lands Aviation Sector Analysis finding remains valid.  Additional airport capacity will be needed in the GTA before 2036.

But will the COVID-19 pandemic specifically impact the timing for Pickering Airport?  Frankly, it is too early to tell.  It may be a three-year delay to a forecast in-service date if IATA is correct.  Or, it may be no delay at all if the COVID risk is low or a vaccine is available.

All anyone can do now is wait and watch what happens.  The year-end 2020 COVID situation and airport passenger results will be important indicators of how fast aviation will recover in the GTA.


references :

Statistics Canada yearly Airline passenger movements.

IATA five year post COVID-19 outlook 


14 thoughts on “Aviation Will Come Roaring Back!

  1. “Pickering Lands Aviation Sector Analysis finding remains valid.”
    No they do not. Never were valid and never will be.
    Toronto Airport capacity is the required determinant of Pickering. That is a mathematical formula delivered in the GTAA 2008 20 year master plan chapter 5 that determined a max. 5 runway capacity in 2013-2019 (see chapter 15) based on the variable of practical -maximum capacity and for a 6 runway airport in years 2017-2023. That plan is still current to 2028 and is/was profoundly wrong.
    GTAA abandoned that calculation somewhat, unofficially in 2015 and officially in their 2017 Master plan . Sure blew up Ryan and company.

    They then based demand on population growth projections as provided by Transport Canada, and related/factored that to aircraft movement requirements (and capacity) based on a ratio of Passengers /aircraft.
    In the GTAA’s NASPL (Needs Assessment Study Pickering Lands) they stated that aircraft growth in size would be negligible and would not change within the (20 year) study time from 90pax/ac. Big misunderstanding for how aviation works.

    In their 2017 master plan they revised that numbered ratio stating that it would grow from 108 to 140 by 2037.
    If you read the most recent annual report ( delivered in May 2019) page 18 you will observe the graph “Seats per movement” and see from the page previous “Flight Activity” chart that the load factor is 84.3%. Thus the actual Pax. per aircraft is ~128..
    Using their graph and line projecting 108 in 2017 and 128 in 2019 you will realize the projection of 140 in 2037 is rubbish. (more like 2021 but covid changed that)
    All projections thus are/were rubbish.
    KPMG projected hourly movement limits of 90 /hr based on… nothing other than “That is what GTAA said”. They also projected growth in aircraft movements on population growth.. same misunderstanding…..
    GTAA ‘s. own average hourly capacity numbers were 119 movements/hr in 2007. (Actually 119.46 if you do the math.)
    Based on their own numbers ie 90 movements/ hr on the NS twinned runway. (grew from 75 to 90) they are now able to do >130/hr average Hourly capacity on 5 runways with a projected 6 runway absolute max. capability of ~180 aircraft movements/hr.
    Current “capacity constraints” / (gate booking requirements) are based on Toronto terminal gate limits, and that does not drive a “Pickering”. Never will in your lifetime.
    Simply put they vastly “under -gated” or were til Jan. of this year. They need to build more gates and reduce gate loiter times.

    1. I find your fixation on the single least restrictive limitation ( runway capacity) fascinating. More so your argument that all the experts currently calculating it are doing it all wrong.
      It is like saying there are still open tables at a restaurant at 5 am in the morning so there is no need for any new restaurants. Or saying that you can add tables to an existing establishment just by adding a room, ignoring the kitchen, parking lot, food delivery etc.
      an airport is more than a runway, it is everything from a fuel pipeline to terminal space, to gates, to de icing bays to access roads and freeways to Parking lots and mass transit. Together they create an economic engine that runs a city.

      Pickering Airport will not be delayed or denied just because you disagree with the world class experts at the GTAA and transport that say we need it. You need to expand your argument a bit. If not myself and almost everyone else will side with the experts.

  2. Aircraft movements are not near capacity at Toronto Pearson and have never shown a need for expansion before 2037. Quit trying to mislead people with your untruths. Thank you!

    1. Welcome aboard Peter. Its good to see another member of the insider crowd ( former or current aviation professional in the know on transport Canadas open secret of dirt cheap land leases in Pickering) coming out of the closet and contributing to the debate.

  3. Perhaps a closer look at the KPMG study is needed if you want to rely on said experts. No requirement or need for Pickering airport!

    1. Have Read it cover to cover ( all 490+ pages) and agree with its findings.

      The recently released KPMG ASA report states that new Aviation Capacity is needed. The question is simply where to put it and how to fund and build it. It suggested the development of Pickering airport is feasible, breaking ground in 2026, less that six years from today.

      It is my understanding that some in the press and a local MP have listened to wishful thinking or been misinformed by a group lobbying for extending the land leases on the billion-dollar Pickering lands.

      Don’t be fooled. We review the findings of the KPMG ASA report here:

  4. Having read the KPMG report, wherein they accepted GTAA’s ( your experts certainly not mine) hourly capacity statement of 90 movements / hr it becomes exceedingly apparent there are no experts anywhere near either operation. They couldn’t project @#$&*.
    There are however some very effective political operatives.
    Eng GTAA (now x ceo) hires in from Hong Kong. Just prior ( In and about) to his leaving there were two extensive studies of that airports capacity, one by the FAA (US federal aviation administration). He knows capacity.
    He arrived in Toronto in 2012.5. Some 6 months later he pulled his people out of Pickering much to the ire of Minister Flaherty who has a temper tantrum and sticks a shovel in the Pickering ground.
    In 2016/ 7. Eng with his Toronto Hub proposal in the bag, his vastly revised Master plan capacity projections , initiates half billion worth of land purchases (ACI) with written Minister of Transport approval along the eastern side of Toronto airport site for his “ union station west” vision and promotes the “ Superlinks” upgrade of Metrolinks through the TBOT (toronto board of trade). Collusion delusion.!
    Then KPMG delivers the rubbish report they were told to write. They talk about trains.
    If you see “ world class” aviation capacity experts anywhere in there please name them.

    I do see you flogging a very dead horse. ….Whipping LOL ..useless.

  5. Appropriate choice of photo – as outdated as thinking an airport is needed in Pickering. I am curious as to why you would choose a Soviet-era picture, the original of which literally says “Fly with the planes of Aeroflot”.

    1. Hi Ellen, the choice of using vintage age aviation art is partially a practical one. unlike some lobbying against the airport our Licence budget is small. Only what our volunteers can muster.
      So we decided for a tip of the hat to those few attempting to use soviet style politics for profit. Lobbying is currently underway by a number of Pickering land Lease holders using misinformation and the pandemic as an excuse to extend their leases from one year cancellation clauses into 20 years with no cancellation.

      Their manta is that the pandemics disruption of communal travel in general and aviation in particular is permanent. The post is all about the expert consensus that this disruption is only temporary and that the airport is needed.

      The airport lands are needed by all, and should not be gifted to a political connected few. It is expected to provide service to millions of travelers, create 50,000 jobs and boost the economy by $13 billion in economic activity every year. It will be the heart of eastern Torontos Economic future.

      Our next post will also be repurposing vintage aged art so stay tuned!

      1. LOL. “soviet style politics for profit”? Um, that would be you using Aeroflot to push your agenda. So many errors and myths in your comment. 1. Those lobbying against the airport have NO budget, as opposed to the funding (and fancy dinners) given by developers with deep pockets to the those lobbying for the airport. 2. Just as this is not just a “Pickering” issue, those opposed to airport include thousands of people outside of the lands in question. 3. No one on the Land Over Landings board is an ag lease holder. 4. You’re right that the Pickering lands should be to the benefit of everyone, not just the handful of developers and large corporates. Last I checked, everyone benefits from food security, no fine particles drifting in the air, no noise pollution from planes passing over their house at 1000 ft., no downstream flooding, etc. 5. “Expert consensus” – are these the same experts who chose Soviet propaganda to bolster their case? The pandemic has hit the airline industry hard e.g. ” Airline industry will be permanently smaller post-pandemic”; Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta”; “Cowen estimates that between 800 to 1,000 aircraft in the U.S. fleet might never return to service. Some fleet types will be gone permanently” Skift: The Coming Apocalypse for U.S. Airline Labor. The financial stress and job losses by many ‘potential passengers’ further reduces the number of people able to travel. Final blow: Ontario and Canada will come out of Covid with massive debt and will not be in any position to throw money at a highly questionable venture with no possibility of a return on investment for 15 – 20 years. Your $13 billion and 50,000 jobs is a pipedream which could never happen.

        1. LOL. “soviet style politics for profit” is insiders gifted access to state own resources at deeply discounted rates with no public transparency on who they are.
          Ditto with those same insiders using virtue signally and misinformation to improve their lifestyle, make money or expand their influence peddling power.

          The LOL exec has residential leases, which may amount to the smallest of the forces in motion, but you still benefit significantly each year the airport is delayed. Worse you appear to be giving cover to ( and raising money from?) promoting the idea of 20 year lease extensions so it’s hard to imagine that you do not see the forces at play.

          It is time to publish the list of current and want to be leaseholders. It is time to remove the secrecy and incentives being given to these individuals and corporations to oppose the proper development of the Pickering lands. It is time for you to end the vicious misinformation attacks ( like those in your comment) on our elected officials trying to do their jobs.

          If it is not possible to balance the need for transparency with privacy, then to protect the integrity of our government and its institutions from soviet style corruption the leases should be canceled outright.

          Ellen you are on the LOL executive, do you have a residential or commercial land lease like you Chair and Vice chair? Why should they have this cheap lease ? Why should they be so gifted by the state over others? Do you think it is right to use money raised from donors with environmental virtue signaling to lobby to extend those leases?

          If you truly care about or believe in anything other than yourself, you need to do something about this conflict of interest, misinformation attacks and the perception of pandemic profiteering your groups lobbying efforts have now created.

  6. Durham region white paper….10,000 jobs and 2.5 billion of spinoff revenue. Each time you speak, or Ryan, or region chair that number just keeps growing .
    Like throwing darts. …..pie in the sky related to nothing..last time John Henry spoke at his spring lunch he grew it to 20,000 jobs. Dan Carter and I had a laugh.

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