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Canadian airlines carrying more passengers, less cargo

New data show Canadian airline passenger counts doubled in first quarter of 2023, as cargo tonnage collapsed
A Porter Airlines plane sits on the tarmac at Vancouver International Airport

The aviation trend of planes carrying more passengers and less cargo was strong early this year, according to new Statistics Canada data.

In the first quarter of 2023, all major airlines, or ones that carry at least 100,000 passengers in a calendar year, combined to transport 20,445,000 passengers – up almost 99 per cent, compared with the same quarter in 2022, when those planes carried 10,285,000 passengers.

In contrast, those airlines carried much less cargo. Combined, the airlines carried 189,406,000 kilograms of cargo in the first quarter of 2023, down a whopping 40.4 per cent from the 317,844,000 kilograms of merchandise carried in the first quarter of 2022, according to the nation's number cruncher.

Passenger traffic on Canadian airlines was meagre in the first quarter of 2022 because the COVID-19 pandemic was atop many people's minds.

The B.C. government first announced that someone in the province had tested positive for the highly infectious Omicron variant on Nov. 30, 2021. By the end of 2021, there were 3,878 known cases in B.C. One week into January 2022, government data showed more than 7,000 known Omicron cases. The government then stopped breaking out and revealing case counts by strain, and recognized that many people were not alerting authorities when they had tested positive if their illnesses were mild. 

Travelling was viewed by many as risky behaviour that came with a heightened danger of catching COVID-19.

Airlines responded by filling their hulls with as much cargo as they could because the planes would otherwise be largely empty. 

Air travel volume has since risen, although it remains below where it was pre-pandemic. The result is that airlines have reconfigured planes for more passengers and less cargo. 

The Vancouver Airport Authority said last month that it expects nearly seven million passengers to travel through Vancouver International Airport (YVR) in July, August and September.

That compares with 7,597,457 passengers – or 8.5 per cent more – who passed through the airport in July, August and September 2019. Only 6,143,022 passengers passed through YVR in those summer months last year, so the current projection for summer travel is to be up 14 per cent compared with last year. 

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