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:

YEAR EIA ECCA
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:

YEAR EIA YYC
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.