Air Canada has released its domestic plans for the coming months, as the country’s largest airline copes with a massive downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Air Canada plans to fly 2,614 flights on 93 routes within Canada during the month of April, as part of a schedule that sees its capacity cut by 80% and its foreign routes, including to the United States, reduced to a shadow of what they were just a month ago.
As both airlines retrench and enter survival mode, each is turning to connecting cities to its hubs and turning away from point-to-point service.
Both airlines will serve all 10 provinces, though Air Canada’s network will be far more extensive in Atlantic Canada. Air Canada will also have a greater share of transcontinental routes, from Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton to Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa.
Air Canada’s major hubs – Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver – will either be the origin or the destination for 70% of Air Canada’s flights in April. The three cities will also act as gateways for the airline’s remaining international “air bridge” services linking Canada to vital major cities around the world.
Below: The map compares Westjet routes (in blue) and Air Canada routes (in red). Checked boxes allow you to change map views.
Air Canada’s April schedule features 40 Canadian cities, a drop of 22 destinations as a result of the pandemic. Six of those destinations were in British Columbia, five in Quebec, and three in Ontario.
Air Canada dominates air travel in Quebec and points east, as shown by comparing the number of departures between the two airlines in Montreal – 245 vs 39 – and Halifax – 203 vs 55.
Despite its smaller size, Westjet will have a bigger concentration of flights at its Calgary hub than Air Canada will have at its national hub, Toronto, a sign of just how far the airlines are retrenching to cope with the pandemic.
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The number of departures only shows how busy an airport can expect to be, not how many passengers will pass through a terminal. With its larger aircraft, Air Canada can generally handle more passengers per flight than Westjet.
Canada’s airports expect to lose between $1.8 and $2.2 billion this year as a result of COVID-19 with passenger numbers dropping between 55 and 71% between March and June.
“The operational and financial challenges Canada’s airports are facing from COVID-19 are unlike anything the industry has seen,” said Daniel-Robert Gooch, President of the Canadian Airports Council which represents the country’s largest airports. “With events moving so rapidly, our estimates, as dire as they are, are virtually out of date as soon as they are released. We really don’t know where the bottom is yet.”
The CAC is urgently calling on the federal government to offer a break on land leases and cash to help airports survive the crisis.