Canada vs. U.S.: how much do we fly?

Since both countries have statistics for 2003 available (U.S. stats, Canadian stats), and I thought it would be interesting to compare trends in Canada and the U.S. Unfortunately, statistics for the two countries do not follow the same categories, so comparison is sometimes tricky. With this posting, I’ll start by looking at how many hours we logged on both sides of the border for civil aviation (obviously, the U.S. logs a lot more military hours).

Total hours

Country Flight Hours Population Hours per 100 people
Canada 3,790,000 31,300,000 12
United States 46,153,800 288,500,000 16

The U.S. logged a lot more civilian flight hours than Canada did relative to its population: a full 33% more per person. In many ways, that makes sense: while Canada is a bigger country in land mass, most of our population is concentrated in the south along the U.S. border; even more importantly, about half of Canada’s population and a much larger proportion of its businesses live in the Quebec CityWindsor corridor. A business traveller in the U.S. will frequently be making long flights from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles to Denver and so on; a business traveller in Canada is more likely to take a one-hour flight (or a even a six-hour drive) from Toronto to Montreal, with only the occasional hop out west to Edmonton, Calgary, or Vancouver. Many small communities in the Canadian north rely on aviation as their only transportation link, but they are small and few, and probably not enough to tip the statistics.

General Aviation

It is much trickier to come up with general aviation numbers. The U.S. NTSB statistics divide civil aviation into three categories:

  1. Part 121 Operators
  2. Part 135 Operators
  3. General Aviation

The Canadian statistics, on the other hand, divide civil aviation into seven categories:

  1. Airliners
  2. Commuter Aircraft
  3. Air Taxi
  4. Aerial Work
  5. State
  6. Corporate/Private/Other
  7. Helicopters

How do we reconcile these? It is entirely possible, for example, for a helicopter to be carrying out scheduled air service or making a private flight. My best approximation (and this isn’t a very good one) is to take Aerial Work, State, Corporate/Private/Other, and Helicopters as very roughly equivalent to the U.S. General Aviation category. With that enormous caveat in mind, here’s how general aviation compares in Canada and the United States:

Country Total Hours G.A. Hours Percentage G.A.
Canada 3,790,000 1,673,000 44%
United States 46,153,800 25,800,000 56%

Again, there’s a big difference between the two countries. Allowing for the comparison difficulties, it looks like general aviation accounts for well over half of air traffic in the U.S., but well under half in Canada. So Canadians log fewer hours per person, and we log more of them on commercial or airline flights. That’s not what I initially expected to find, given that so much of Canada is sparsely populated and accessible only by air, but again, the explanation is probably the concentration of Canadian population near the U.S. border, and especially along the Quebec City-Windsor corridor.

In future postings, I’ll take a look at the differences (if any) in accident statistics between the two countries.

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