This article appeared in the February 2020 edition of COPA Flight magazine
by Adam Hunt
Growth declined to virtually zero in the Canadian private civil aircraft fleet in 2019. During the year the private fleet grew by only 15 aircraft, which is 0.05%, while the overall civil aircraft fleet grew by 151 aircraft or 0.41%.
The 2019 numbers are a drop from the 0.28% growth seen in 2018 and far off the peak growth of 2008, just before the Great Recession hit, when the private fleet grew at a peak rate of 3.2%. As the accompanying graph shows, growth rates in the private fleet have been in general decline since the 2008-10 recession started. The graph shows a modest recovery in 2010-11, after the recession, but then drops rapidly and does not reflect the general recovery seen in the Canadian economy. The low Canadian dollar, compared to the US dollar, has probably been a factor and its effect can be seen in the net number of certified aircraft exported.
The US economy continued to do well in 2019 and its dollar remained fairly high against the Canadian dollar. The Canadian dollar ended the year at 77 cents US, up four cents since the end of last year. Once again, the low dollar resulted in a net flow of used certified aircraft out of Canada, mostly to US buyers.
In 2019, the total Canadian civil fleet increased in size by 151 aircraft. In 2019, the private segment of the fleet increased by just 15 aircraft, while the commercial aircraft fleet increased by 153 aircraft and the state fleet, those aircraft owned by the various levels of government in Canada, decreased by 17 aircraft.
Certified aircraft had been leading the growth in private aircraft for a number of years when the Canadian dollar was high, but that trend changed in 2015 when we lost 103 certified aircraft and accelerated in 2016 with the falling Canadian dollar, as we lost 161 certified aircraft. In 2017, we lost 69 certified aircraft and, as the dollar fell in 2018, that increased to 117. In 2019, that accelerated to a loss of 132 aircraft.
In 2019, the changes to the private certified fleet were made up of a reduction of 135 airplanes, while helicopters increased by 17 and gliders decreased by two. Private certified balloons were down by 12. The 2019 decline included 137 single-engined aircraft and one four-engined aircraft, while twins increased by 20 aircraft.
There were 15,814 private certified aircraft at the end of 2019, out of a total of 29,468 private aircraft registered or 54% of the private fleet.
BULAs were once again where the growth was in private aviation in Canada in 2019, as the case has been for several years. During the year, the category increased by 95 aircraft, down from the growth of 118 in 2018. There were 6,431 BULAs registered at the end of 2019.
The attraction of this category undoubtedly remains its low cost.
The O-M category added 17 aircraft in 2019, the same number as in both 2017 and 2018. This makes it the category with the third best growth for 2019, behind basic ultralights and amateur-builts. All the growth this year was in airplanes, with no changes to the number of gliders. By the end of 2019, there were 758 O-M aircraft on the registry, made up of 741 airplanes and 17 gliders.
It is worth noting that aircraft are not built in this category, but are mostly existing Canadian certified aircraft that are moved to O-M. Some may be certified aircraft imported from other countries into the O-M category as well.
The O-M category has continued to suffer from low numbers of aircraft being moved from the certified category ever since the American FAA announced that O-M aircraft will never be allowed to fly in US airspace or be sold in the USA.
Amateur-builts were in the number two growth position again in 2019, increasing by 64 aircraft, a large jump from the 37 aircraft added in 2018. In 2019, the aircraft added were made up of 59 airplanes, six helicopters and three amateur-built balloons, minus the loss of one glider and three gyroplanes.
Amateur-builts now number 4,344 in Canada and include a wide variety of aircraft, from fixed wing airplanes, helicopters, gliders, gyroplanes to balloons and even one ornithopter, although the latter is in a museum.
In a trend never seen before, in 2019 the number of advanced ultralights decreased by two airplanes. Their drop this year brought the total number of AULAs on the civil register to 1,252. By its category definition, AULAs are all powered, fixed wing aircraft.
The AULA category was introduced in 1991 and therefore 2019 was its 28th year in existence. The category has increased its numbers at an average of 45 aircraft per year since its inception and so can hardly be considered the success that was anticipated when it was started. It will be interesting to see if the category recovers in 2020, or if it sees further shrinkage.
In 2019, the commercial aircraft fleet increased by 153 aircraft to bring the number up to 7,165. The numbers show an increase of 126 airplanes and 25 helicopters, with the addition of two commercial balloons.
In round numbers, at the end of 2019 the private fleet made up 80% of the aircraft in Canada, with the commercial fleet at 19% and the state fleet at 1%, all basically unchanged in recent years.
Imports & Exports
Aircraft imports into Canada in 2019 numbered 568, which was up from 552 in 2018, but well below the 968 imported during the pre-recession days of 2008.
In 2019, 894 aircraft were exported, an increase from the 790 aircraft exported last year. There were 326 more aircraft exported than imported, a net loss that was much higher than the 238 in 2018.
With the continuing loss of certified private aircraft exported mainly to the US, the private civil aircraft fleet saw essentially zero growth in 2019. This was a continuation of the trend seen over the last five years and this is despite the national economy doing well in this period. The growth that has been seen in the private fleet has been in the lowest-cost end of the fleet, while many higher-value certified aircraft are being exported. Factors such as increasing aircraft ownership costs, including high avgas prices; Transport Canada's over-regulation of personal aviation; airport closures; increasing public concern about climate change and burning fossil fuel for recreational activities; low interest in aviation careers by young people, due to low wages and increasing automation, despite a growing commercial pilot shortage; and an aging private pilot population, are all contributing to the lack of growth in the field.
Note: Aircraft data for this report was taken from the Transport Canada Civil Aircraft Register and reflects the difference between the number of aircraft registered in Canada on 31 December 2018 and 31 December 2019. These statistics reflect the net number of aircraft built and imported, minus the number destroyed, scrapped and exported. Just because an aircraft is registered in Canada does not mean it is being flown and therefore the number of registered aircraft should not be confused with the amount of flying activity.