Airport Passenger Statistics for Edmonton & Calgary

Earlier this evening I was a guest on The Lesley Primeau Show on 630 CHED. Along with Brittney, we talked about Twitter. That went pretty much as expected – Lesley doesn’t hate social media, but she doesn’t get it either.

While waiting for the show to get started, we were talking about the Edmonton City Centre Airport (ECCA). I’m in favor of closing “the muni” while Lesley very clearly favors the status quo, or perhaps even restoring scheduled service to ECCA. She feels that Edmonton needs an airport downtown to become a great city – I think we need density in the centre, not an airport.

Things got slightly heated when Lesley said that the only growth the Edmonton International Airport (EIA) has seen was from the consolidation back in 1995. She also said that EIA will never rival the Calgary International Airport, and that growth there has been far stronger. I challenged her on both of these assertions (and have heard others make them recently). Lesley said I needed to do my homework, that I was wrong.

So I did my homework. I wasn’t wrong.

Let’s start with the first myth – that EIA’s growth has only come at the expense of ECCA. Here are the annual passenger numbers for each airport from 1995 to 2008 (I’m going with scheduled passenger numbers, which is why ECCA is 0 after 1996):

Here they are in table format:

1995 1943797 835612
1996 3104322 417002
1997 3720623 0
1998 3791574 0
1999 3700016 0
2000 3843321 0
2001 3940416 0
2002 3773800 0
2003 3882497 0
2004 4081565 0
2005 4511451 0
2006 5213992 0
2007 6065117 0
2008 6437334 0

What can learn from those numbers? The key years are 1995-97, obviously (the plebiscite vote took place on October 16, 1995). Passenger traffic at EIA, which had been stagnant since the early 1980s at about 2 million passengers per year, increased by more than the amount that passenger traffic at ECCA decreased. Passenger traffic at ECCA decreased by 835,612 from 1995 to 1997, while passenger traffic at EIA increased by 1,776,826.

Clearly there was something besides consolidation that caused traffic at EIA to increase. Growth at EIA leveled off from 1998 until 2002, but you’ll recall that was a difficult time for the airline industry – Edmonton was not alone.

Now let’s look at the second myth – that Edmonton will always be second to Calgary. Here are the annual passenger numbers for EIA and YYC from 1996 to 2008:

Here they are in table format:

1996 3104322 6967571
1997 3720623 7547156
1998 3791574 7731034
1999 3700016 8010883
2000 3843321 8090426
2001 3940416 7794519
2002 3773800 7884194
2003 3882497 8576541
2004 4081565 9174039
2005 4511451 10148718
2006 5213992 11279080
2007 6065117 12265754
2008 6437334 12507111

Calgary is definitely busier than Edmonton – nearly twice as busy. Edmonton is in a better position today relative to Calgary than it was in 1996, however. It’s a little difficult to tell from the graph/table above, but Edmonton’s growth overall since 1996 is actually stronger than Calgary’s. Here are the annual percentage increases:

In total, passenger traffic at EIA has increased 107% since 1996, whereas passenger traffic at YYC has increased 80% since 1996.

Is that enough to suggest that Edmonton can emerge from the shadow of Calgary, at least when it comes to their respective airports? Maybe, maybe not. But the data clearly shows that YYC isn’t light years beyond EIA as some would like to suggest.

As an aside, while doing my research I found statistics for EIA for three more years: 394000 in 1962, 755000 in 1973, and 1100000 in 1974.

The public hearing on the City Centre Airport continues tomorrow at City Hall. You can see my resources post here.

Sources: EIA Website, EIA Passenger Statistics, YYC Website, Calgary Airport Statistics, numerous EIA press releases, Wikipedia, Tourism Calgary.

28 thoughts on “Airport Passenger Statistics for Edmonton & Calgary

  1. Mack:

    Remind me not to challenge you on anything fact based!

    I have always thought that Primeau was the type to speak her mouth and not her mind. She strikes me as an intelligent lady, but her own arguments sometimes are so ridiculous they MUST be simply used to increase listenership, and invoke debate.

    She did a show on the Cities 10-year commitment of $300M to end homelessness and was basically reckless in her characterization in how this money was a complete waste, and joked about buying palatial homes for the homeless. She didn’t even attempt to understand how complex the services, programs and infrastructure required to make this goal a possibility.

    As I have always said, you are the best example of how social media can serve a greater good. In your case the service you provide our community is particularly in the area of promoting open discussion and non-bias information sharing.


  2. Thanks Chris!

    I definitely think some of Primeau’s remarks are designed solely to get a rise out of her guests and audience. That’s cool though, makes for a more entertaining show.

    I’m glad I missed her show on the homelessness issue, or I’d have had to write another long post! 😉

  3. I think that the percentage increase relating YEG to YYC is a little biased. If you throw out the off year of 1996 when all passenger traffic from YXD moved to YEG, then from 1997 on, the difference in growth is only 7% (60% totaly for YEG and 53% total for YYC). It still favours YEG but i don’t think that it’s quite as severe as you make it out to be.

    I’m not saying your point is invalid, I just think that including the year of 1996 creates a little misrepresentation.

    I am of the opinion that YXD should remain open, however my opinion as both a Calgarian and pilot is both uninformed and biased.

  4. Brady – I suppose you’re right, including 1996 is a little misleading. If we instead start from 1997, I get 73% growth for Edmonton and 66% growth for Calgary. Less severe, as you pointed out.

    That said, I think it makes sense to include 1996 because it helps to show growth for the two regions overall (it’s just that Calgary had one airport before 1997 and Edmonton had two).

  5. Agreed, But to really Get a picture for each region you would have to include the 20% increase for 1996 at YEG as well as Whatever the decrease was for YXD in that year. As that 20% isn’t actual growth for the region, it is merely a transfer from one airport to the other.

    I can see you and Brittney’s pint that Edmonton needs to densify but As a pilot I’m wondering where the general aviation community will go if YXD is shut down. Don’t forget that Calgary has 2 airports as well, Calgary International and Calgary-Springbank, ranking the 4th and 5th busiest respectively in Canada in regards to aircraft movements. for the most part YYC is al the commercial air carriers and general aviation goes into YBW. Commercial Passengers are only one side of the issue when you talk about shutting down this airport.

  6. Heh no worries on the caps!

    All very true…a lot of that is addressed in the EIA’s fact sheet they released on ECCA. I’m not a pilot, and I haven’t looked into the numbers too closely, so I probably am not in the best position to analyze it. It’s linked on my resources post if you’re interested.

    If I had more time, I’d break out the YEG/YYC numbers by domestic and international, because I think that would tell a bit of a different story.

  7. Great data, Mack. There is a lot of spin going around about the ECCA, so it’s great to see actual facts presented online for everyone to see. Thanks.

  8. Also, if you don’t mind me asking, what exactly is it about social media that Leslie Primeau doesn’t understand? It seems to me that someone working for a radio station that depends on user-interaction (call-in radio) would also understand the utility and advantage of social media (or naturally be interested in learning more).

    (also, I think you mean 1995 instead of 2005 when referring to the ECCA plebisite).

  9. Ah nice catch Dave, fixed, thanks.

    I’m not sure what Primeau’s deal is. I think it’s a little bit of resistance to change, and a little bit of fear. I would have thought she’d have been more open to learning as well.

  10. I am not going to pretend I know a lot on the whole issue, but considering the small number of people who actually use ECCA vs the impact it may eventually have on the development of the city, it does not sound like a tough call to make…

  11. Damn you and your well thought out, fact based, intelligently stated, rational points. How do you debate someone like you? It’s frustrating.

    I wonder if that is how the pro-ECCA crowd feels…

  12. Good afternoon Mark,

    Most interesting report and comments. I, too, feel that the ECCA is past it’s best before date.

    To address those concerned with medivac, I’ll bet creative minds could design ground/rooftop space to receive a chopper and access to the RA.

    However, as one of, what may be called, the older generation, I feel that heritage, (community, city, provincial, national), is vital. If the ECCA land is to be converted to degrees of residential/commercial/educational use, I really hope that a strong visual legacy is left for present and future generations to enjoy and understand the importance Blanchard Field played in the history of Edmonton. And I don’t mean a few plaques hither and yon.
    I would love to see some large sculptures, (possibly life size), of the aircraft and people who are synonymous with aviation history in Edmonton.
    Wouldn’t it be cool arriving at NAIT and, as you step out of the LRT, be greeted by a biplane bearing down on you?
    Just yesterday a client and I were discussing some of the past that Edmonton has lost because of short term thinking, (our perspective). Let’s get Edmontonians celebrating what has been, what is, and what can be.



  13. Bill, With the med-evac issue, I’d just like to clarify. Only a very very small number of Med-Evac’s use helicopters. Typically the helicopters are used for emergencies where the patient is in life threatening condition. the large majority of Med-Evac’s are fixed wing aircraft needing an airstrip.

  14. Brady:

    The city actually has four regional airports. the principal training airport would become Villeneuve, which has the same four runways and is a control zone than ECCA. There is also Cooking Lake, which is where a lot of GA pilots who own planes fly from.

    As a Pilot I love the convenience and coolness of flying into the city core, without a doubt. that said, I see a very unique opportunity to reinvent the urban nature of our City, with a huge piece of central land.

    Park me on the fence on this one.

  15. Chris:

    I kind of figured that Villneuve would be the likely candidate to take over the GA side of things but it seems to me that the ECCA has the infrastructure in place already to support a massive GA operation. It would be a lot of money to tear down YXD and build it up into the city (although i can see how it would be beneficial) and to also spend on getting Villneuve up to par with what the ECCA is currently at.

    But then again I’m not from edmonton, nor will i pretend to know a lot about the airports or what edmonton needs. I’d put me on the fence as well with a slight list towards keeping the ECCA.

  16. Mack,

    This has got to be one of the best, non-biased articles on this topic. Thanks Mack, this is why I regularly visit your blog (and recommend it to all in this city).


  17. Your statistics are incorrect. Zero (0) passengers at the ECCA since 1997 is not true! There has been, and currently are companies that offer flights to Northern Alberta and other areas within Alberta out of the ECCA. Obviously they’ll be out of business soon. The ECCA is well utilized by commercial, public and private sectors. I’m not in favor of closure, I wish for our City and Province to be vibrant and easily accessibly for all.

  18. Susan, you’re right about the stats. I still haven’t found solid numbers for the sched flights out of ECCA for that time period, but my understanding is that we’re talking tens of thousands, so nothing compared to EIA or even the former Muni. There SHOULD have been zero after 1996. That’s why I went with zero originally and have left it that way.

  19. As a pilot I would caution against any airport closures. What this airport has going for itself is close proximity to ammenities. As a pilot I avoid being hearded to major hubs and more inclined to land at these types of airports. What the uniformed fail to recognize is the economic benefit to having airports like this remain open. I would strongly encourage an economic impact study. You will recall years ago they considered closing Springbank, they felt it was under-utilized and primarily only by non-contributing general aviation. What they neglected to consider was the activities of the general aviation and benefit to community. As food for thought, it does not take us long to be in the next province – never mind the next city. The impact study revealed a $52 million dollar contribution to community. Needless to say – Springbank remained open and has continued to prosper. Are you sure your pave it, build it logic can produce the same kind of revenue for your community? My advice would be rather than destroy – you should build; create jobs and prosper. Do your homework which should include studying Nav Canada “movements”, then make an informed decision.

  20. One needs to look at the statistics much more closely, starting with a long term trend since the 50’s and with a partitioning of the traffic into international, long haul, short haul, cargo, corporate, and small private aircraft. Moreover, since Calgary has a larger population and more traffic at its international airport, one should expect a slower percentage growth. In addition, including the migration of muni traffic to the international in the mid 90’s simply produces a sleight of hand to fool the unwary. The economic cycles, and tar sands development and drilling have much to do with the economic fate of both cities, which in turn markedly affect growth rates or activity at airports.

    I look suspiciously at a hidden agenda, to develop high density residential TOD enclaves, and I openly wonder if those high density advocates have it all wrong. I lived for considerable periods of time in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal as well as Edmonton in the 50’s and 60’s. What made these other cities attractive then, vis-a-vis Edmonton, has not changed. Development of higher density in downtown Vancouver, for example, did not make Vancouver attractive. That which draws people to the city, (Stanley Park, English Bay, False Creek, Granville, the harbor, the mountains, mild climate, etc.) existed in the 50’s and the policies to create higher density have done little to improve things, other than create unneeded congestion as people flock downtown to get services and entertainment.

  21. Why do you start the stats in 1996? To examine these numbers we need a larger range an extra 5-10 years before consolidation.

    Why are no other variables examined? Strong economics over the last 5 or 10 years could easily show faster increases in Edmonton then Calgary. (Also the opposite is possible) As we all know, Correlation does not equal causation.

    As mentioned in previous comments it is unfair to include 1996/1997 in your stats as Edmonton air traffic was in a state of massive change. It is natural for number to be largely increased during this time.

    Have you considered how many of Edmonton’s flights are to Calgary? Are total passenger number the right stat to be using? How about direct passengers to destinations outside of Canada? I don’t think anyone complains about Edmonton’s service to Calgary/Vancouver/Toronto. How many people use EIA to destinations other then these 3?

    Also Calgary has more then 1 airport, Springbank opened in 1971. Has this effected Calgary’s air traffic?

  22. I would like to know where you got your passenger stats from for CYCD – Nanaimo. They do not appear to jive with mine. Regarding the “movements” those are available online.

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