Almost half of Air Canada AC-T’s flights arrived late in July, the poorest showing of the 10 largest airlines in North America.
Fifty-one per cent of Air Canada’s flights arrived at the gate within 15 minutes of the scheduled hour, according to aviation data company Cirium. Calgary-based WestJet Airlines Ltd. placed seventh in Cirium’s monthly report scheduled to be released on Thursday.
U.S. carriers Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines lead the list, arriving as scheduled 82 and 79 per cent of the time, respectively.
Cirium, a provider of aviation data to the industry, ranks the 10 biggest airlines in a given region, based on flights and capacity. Of the 751,000 North American flights tracked in July, just 66 per cent arrived on time. This compares with 82 per cent globally, 74 per cent in Europe, 76 per cent in Asia-Pacific and 81 per cent in Latin America. Chile’s LATAM Airlines leads the global list, with an on-time score of 85 per cent.
The lagging performance in North America comes after prolonged shortages of air traffic controllers, baggage handlers and pilots.
Air Canada finished at the bottom of Cirium’s North American list in June, as well.
Barry Prentice, a transportation professor at University of Manitoba, said the poor performance of Canadian airlines is likely because they were shut down in the pandemic for longer than most of their global peers. And when they restarted, it was with new and inexperienced employees in some positions.
He added that much of Canada’s air traffic moves through Toronto Pearson International Airport, which has been beset by shortages of baggage handlers and air traffic controllers, in addition to storm-related slowdowns. These delays quickly cascade through the system, he said.
WestJet spokeswoman Denise Kenny said operations were affected by several factors in July. “The most significant contributors [were] weather impacts due to the ongoing thunderstorms we saw across Western Canada and third-party delays incurred from service partners across the aviation ecosystem,” Ms. Kenny said in an e-mail. “While the saying remains true that we cannot control the weather, WestJet continues to advocate for a service framework of shared accountability across all entities that contribute to Canada’s vital aviation ecosystem.”
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline has improved its on-time performance since last year, but has experienced strong demand for airfares and is running at almost full capacity amid air-traffic control disruptions and a summer marked by unusually heavy storms. The airline experienced 26 days of weather disruptions in July across its network, compared with 19 in July, 2019.
“In terms of staffing, we are above prepandemic 2019 levels, but are flying 90 per cent of the seat miles we did then,” he said. “Additionally, we have taken other measures, such as adjusting our schedule to flatten out traffic peaks to smooth the flow of passengers. We also added last-minute extra flights to the schedule where possible to move passengers affected by disruptions.”
Nav Canada, the agency that runs Canada’s air navigation system, has at times required aircraft to delay departures because of staff shortages stemming from the shutdown of training during the pandemic. The U.S. is also facing a shortage of traffic controllers. It’s a problem not easily solved, given the time it takes to certify controllers.
The global airline industry group, International Air Transport Association, in July criticized governments in both countries for the problems, which it says are causing “unacceptable” delays for passengers. “Ottawa and Washington need to take ownership of the issues under their direct control and lead in resolving them,” IATA said in a statement.