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Flight delays at Canadian airlines far outstrip peers in U.S., despite improvements

July 25, 2023  By The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Canada’s two biggest airlines saw a far higher proportion of their flights delayed than many of their American peers, according to figures from an aviation data firm.

Overall, only half of Air Canada’s flights were on time between June 19 and July 16, statistics provided by Cirium reveal.

In comparison, 64 per cent of WestJet’s flights touched down on time.

Flights are considered on time if they touch down with 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival time.


The numbers contrast with on-time performances that range between 68 per cent and 83 per cent for the five biggest airlines in the United States.

Several reasons underlie the tarmac tardiness, which falls well below the general industry goal of 80 per cent on-time flights.

To meet soaring summer demand — Air Canada now transports 140,000 passengers a day — airlines are running their planes too frequently, said John Gradek, a lecturer at McGill University’s aviation management program. The practice can result in hitches that hold up travellers across the country.

“The existing airplanes are working harder,” he said. That leaves less time for maintenance between flights and overnight.

“If you don’t give the mechanics enough time to fix the snags on a regular turn, those snags will catch up to you. And then you now have an unserviceable airplane that cannot be dispatched.”

Half of Air Canada’s 18 A330 wide-bodies and most of its 76 Airbus A319, A320 and A321 narrow-bodies — more than 40 per cent of its fleet — are well over two decades old.

“These airplanes are long in the tooth need a lot of maintenance, need a lot of TLC to fly reliably,” Gradek said.

Crew shortages can also play a role in peak season. It’s harder to find a spare pilot or flight attendant when each aircraft is flying more — or when delays pile up, exceeding the “duty times” that employees are allowed to work within a given period.

Air Canada acknowledged the strain on its network amid the throes of peak travel season.

“As with any system, when it is operating at full capacity it may slow processes down and take longer to recover when issues arise. That said, many of the delays were relatively short,” spokeswoman Angela Mah said in an email.

The figures show that about 93 per cent of Air Canada trips, and 98 per cent of WestJet trips, hit the gate less than two hours late.

Thunderstorms have caused their share of problems this summer too, Air Canada noted. Of the 40 days between June 1 and July 10, 31 saw “weather-related disruption” versus 20 days in the same period in 2019, the Montreal-based company said.

“Our Montreal global hub experienced numerous thunderstorms in recent weeks, including multiple red alerts — necessitating halts to operations due to lightning — which have led to delays. Similar situations have occurred frequently in the eastern part of North America, where we have a significant volume of flights,” Mah said.

She also pointed to the dearth of air traffic controllers — in Canada and the U.S. — that means planes are often left waiting to land.

That time circling the runway can also tack on hours to flight crews’ shifts each week, pushing them closer to their 28-day cap and leaving less leeway for them to plug labour gaps by month’s end.

“Following these events, Air Canada’s focus is to get aircraft and crew back on track and get our customers on their way as soon as possible,” Mah said.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2021


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