Airline Crisis in Stark Numbers

November 9, 2020. Airline workers in Halifax demand government action. (Unifor Local 2002)

The gross income of Canadian airlines plunged dramatically during the first half of the year 2020; in July passenger numbers were down on average 90 per cent year over year. NAV CANADA, the private cartel controlling air traffic, reports that air traffic throughout the country in September was still down by an average 62.6 per cent compared to a year earlier, with air cargo accounting for a large percentage of the traffic. It could be said these terrible numbers are largely self-inflicted by those in control. They stem from the contradiction between the private competing control of an industry that is completely socialized and interconnected with the rest of the economy and in need of cooperation for the mutual benefit of all. The airline sector, along with all the basic industries, requires a new direction and aim to serve the people, economy and society under the control of those who do the work.

Air Canada

Since mid-March, the country's largest airline, Air Canada, has slashed its flight schedule by more than 90 per cent and grounded more than 200 of its fleet of 332 planes. At that time, it laid off 5,100 employees. It has cut service internationally from 150 airports to just five. Gross income from ticket sales and services at Air Canada dropped by $604 million or 16 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 compared with a year earlier. The company says it burned through $22 million in cash per day in March. It reported a loss of $1.05 billion in its first quarter compared with a profit of $345 million in the same quarter last year. The company said it expected the cash burn to ease as it stops most flying other than for cargo.

This is the backward and destructive view of the ruling oligarchs. They see only the "cash burn" of what they consider their own money when producing a necessary service during an emergency. They do not see the value of mobilizing the working class to work and produce, albeit at a reduced rate, during the pandemic. But they scream, What is the good of producing if maximum private profit cannot be had and we're burning money that belongs to us? Let the public burn its money paying workers not to work!

When faced with the difficulties of a health emergency, the rich oligarchs lash out in desperation to save their private fortunes. Through destruction they see opportunities to save their skins, demand public money and even expand their empires, as the Air Canada oligarchs are plotting to do with their proposed purchase of Air Transat at half the price they offered before the pandemic.

Air Canada's Second Quarter: Air Canada's second quarter 2020 results showed gross income declined from $4.738 billion in the second quarter of 2019 to $527 million in the second quarter this year, a decline of $4.211 billion or 89 per cent. Only cargo income was up over the previous year, climbing 52 per cent to $269 million. Total passengers carried declined by 96 per cent compared to the second quarter of 2019. Operating loss for the quarter was $1.555 billion compared to operating income of $422 million in the second quarter of 2019, a decline of almost $2 billion.

Air Canada reduced its second quarter 2020 passenger/seat capacity by 92 per cent compared to the second quarter of 2019 and announced plans to reduce its third quarter 2020 capacity by approximately 80 per cent compared to the third quarter of 2019. By this point, Air Canada had reduced its workforce by more than half -- a total of 20,000 positions -- through layoffs, attrition and early retirement.

Cancellation of Routes: Air Canada announced in June the complete suspension of service to 30 regional routes. The routes cancelled without any indication of a plan to restart are the following:

Atlantic Canada: Deer Lake-Goose Bay, Deer Lake-St. John's, Fredericton-Halifax, Fredericton-Ottawa, Moncton-Halifax, Saint John-Halifax, Charlottetown-Halifax, Moncton-Ottawa, Gander-Goose Bay, Gander-St. John's, Bathurst-Montreal, Wabush-Goose Bay, Wabush-Sept-Iles, Goose Bay-St. John's.

Quebec: Baie Comeau-Montréal, Baie Comeau-Mont Joli, Gaspé-Iles de la Madeleine, Gaspé-Quebec City, Sept-Iles-Quebec City, Val d'Or-Montreal, Mont Joli-Montréal, Rouyn-Noranda-Val d'Or.

Ontario: Kingston-Toronto, London-Ottawa, North Bay-Toronto, Windsor-Montreal.

Western Canada: Regina-Winnipeg, Regina-Saskatoon, Regina-Ottawa, Saskatoon-Ottawa.

Stations Closed at Regional Airports: Air Canada closed its stations in the following regional airports:

Bathurst, New Brunswick
Wabush, Newfoundland and Labrador
Gaspé, Baie Comeau, Mont Joli, and Val d'Or, Quebec; and
Kingston and North Bay, Ontario.


The second biggest Canadian carrier, WestJet, parked 140 of its 181 aircraft and furloughed more than 9,500 of its 14,000 employees early in the year. The wrecking of service resulted in a 95 per cent drop in passenger travel on the airline, particularly to and from Alberta.

WestJet also eliminated 80 per cent of its flights to the Atlantic Provinces, completely suspending service to Moncton, Fredericton, Sydney and Charlottetown while significantly reducing flights to Halifax and St. John's. It stopped all its flights between Toronto and Quebec City.

Other Carriers

Porter Airlines out of Toronto grounded its entire fleet on March 21 and now says the suspension will last until at least December 15.

Air Transat ceased almost all its operations and closed its Vancouver base.

Sunwing and other smaller regional carriers across the country have in the main suspended air service.


The national air traffic controller NAV CANADA, which is a private cartel of the major airlines and others, so far this year has cut 720 of its 4,600 workers.

NAV CANADA announced in May that it would hike its fees by 29.5 per cent, which became effective in September. The new fees increase the price of tickets for a cross-country flight for a family of four by about $100. NAV CANADA blamed the increase on the absence of greater government support though it did not specify, as a private enterprise, what support it wanted from the public treasury.

Chief executive officer Neil Wilson said in a press release at the time: "NAV CANADA acknowledges this increase (in fees) comes at a time when its customers are also in exceptionally difficult circumstances as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. [...] All available alternatives, including further government assistance, will continue to be explored and utilized in order to minimize or avoid the proposed rate increase."

NAV CANADA is a private corporation that owns and operates Canada's civil air navigation service (ANS) on behalf of the private airlines. The work includes air traffic control, flight information, weather briefings, aeronautical information, airport advisory services and electronic aids to navigation. These responsibilities were held by Transport Canada until it was privatized in 1996. The federal government of Jean Chrétien transferred the ANS from Transport Canada to NAV CANADA for a privatization fee of $1.5 billion. The cartel leadership that seized control of ANS consists of four directors from the major air carriers, one from general and business aviation, three from the federal government and two from bargaining agents or unions.

This article was published in

Volume 50 Number 44 - November 14, 2020

Article Link:
Airline Crisis in Stark Numbers


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