by Adam Hunt
Some growth returned to the Canadian private civil aircraft fleet in 2017, after a flat year in 2016. In 2017 the private fleet grew by 101 aircraft, which is 0.35%, while the overall civil aircraft fleet grew by 135 aircraft or 0.37%.
This is the best growth rate we have seen since 2014, but far off the peak growth pace in 2008, just before the recession hit, when the private fleet grew at a peak rate of 3.2%. As the accompanying graph shows, this is the first sign of a reversal from the drop in growth seen due to the 2008-10 recession. In all cases the numbers seem to reflect a cautiously growing Canadian economy, but the low dollar has also had some effects, as can be seen in the number of certified aircraft exported.
The US economy continued to do well in 2017 and its dollar remained fairly high against the Canadian dollar. With the Canadian dollar ending the year at 80 cents US, this resulted in a net flow of used certified aircraft out of Canada, mostly to US buyers.
In 2017 the total Canadian civil fleet increased in size by 135 aircraft. The private segment of the fleet increased by 101 aircraft in 2017, while the commercial aircraft fleet increased by 32 aircraft and the state fleet, those aircraft owned by the various levels of government in Canada, grew by two 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.
In 2017 the changes to the private certified fleet were made up of a reduction of 80 airplanes, while helicopters increased by seven and gliders increased by three. Private certified balloons were up by one.
There were 16,063 private certified aircraft at the end of 2017, out of a total of 29,371 private aircraft registered or 55%.
BULAs were once again where the growth was in private aviation in 2017, as the case has been for several years. During the year the category increased by 98 aircraft, only down slightly from the growth of 101 in 2015 and 104 in 2016. There were 6,218 BULAs registered at the end of 2017.
The attraction of this category is undoubtedly low cost.
The O-M category added 17 aircraft in 2017, down from the 42 added in 2015 and 34 in 2016, making it the category with the third best growth for 2017, behind basic ultralights and amateur-builts. The 17 aircraft added were all airplanes, no gliders this year. By the end of 2017, there were 724 O-M aircraft on the registry, made up of 706 airplanes and 18 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 sold in the USA.
Amateur-builts were in the number two growth position in 2017, increasing by 35 aircraft, up from 28 aircraft in 2016, although down from an increase of 44 in 2015 and 67 in 2014. Interest in this category seems to be slowly trending downwards over time. In 2017 the aircraft added were made up of 37 airplanes, minus the loss of two helicopters and one gyroplane, with the addition of one amateur-built balloon. Airships and gliders saw no new net additions this past year.
Amateur-builts now number 4,243 in Canada and include a wide variety of aircraft, from fixed wing airplanes, helicopters, gliders, gyroplanes to balloons, airships and even one ornithopter, although the latter is in a museum.
Advanced ultralights were in fourth place for growth again in 2017, increasing their numbers by only six airplanes, well down from the 20 added in 2015. Their growth this year brought the total number of AULAs on the civil register to 1,241. By its category definition, all AULAs are powered, fixed wing aircraft.
The AULA category was introduced in 1991 and therefore 2017 was its 26th year in existence. The category has increased its numbers at an average of 48 aircraft per year since its inception and so can hardly be considered the success that was anticipated when it was started. As in recent years, the number of AULAs added in 2017 was well below the average from the category's earlier years. The low sales figures are mostly likely linked to the high price of new AULAs and their American counter-parts, Light-Sport Aircraft. US LSAs are also seeing very anemic sales numbers, far below the initial expectations in the US.
In 2017 the commercial aircraft fleet increased by 32 aircraft to bring it up to 6,952. The numbers show an increase of 53 airplanes and a loss of 37 helicopters, with an increase of one commercial balloon.
In round numbers, at the end of 2017 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 2017 numbered 527, which was up from 398 in 2016, but well below the 968 imported during the pre-recession days of 2008.
In 2017, 675 aircraft were exported, down from 786 last year. There were 148 more aircraft exported than imported.
Aside from a continuing loss of certified private aircraft exported mainly to the US, the private civil aircraft fleet saw a slight rebound after years of ever-slowing growth numbers, although most of the growth is in the lowest-cost end of the fleet. Whether this trend will continue over the next few years remains to be seen, as factors such as increasing aircraft ownership costs, lack of support among younger people for burning fossil fuel for recreational activities, low interest in aviation careers due to low wages and automation, and an aging private pilot population limit possible 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 2016 and 31 December 2017. 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.