Why Are Landing Fees So High In Canada?

Canada’s airport fees are some of the highest in the world. In fact, in 2015, the World Economic Forum ranked the country 130th out of 138 countries in terms of travel and tourism competitiveness. Thankfully that overall ranking has improved greatly in recent years, although the country’s landing fees remain high. Are travelers getting anything out of these high fees?

Air Canada and WestJet Getty
The government of Canada owns the land airports are situated on, with airports paying rent to Ottawa. Photo: Getty Images

A look at Canada’s landing fees

Before we look at the reason for the high landing fees at Canadian airports, let’s first look at the costs themselves. Since Canadian airports are the focus of this article, everything will be converted to Canadian dollars.

Here are some of our findings:

  • Montreal’s Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport (YUL): The landing charge is C$10.81 per 1,000kg, regardless of MTOW. (A 777-300 would be C$3,235)
  • Toronto’s Pearson Airport (YYZ): The landing charge is C$17.71 per 1,000kg, regardless of MTOW. (A 777-300 would be C$5,300)

Around the world, these are fairly high when compared to some other world-class cities:

  • Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG): The formula is €304.38 + €4.251 x MTOW in metric tons. (A 777-300 would be €1,575, or C$2,325)
  • Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport (SYD): A$7.25 per 1,000kg MTOW (A 777-300 would be A$2,167 or C$2,072).
  • Dubai International Airport (DXB): The airport charges AED 14.9 per metric tonne (1,000kg). (A 777-300 would cost C$1,519)
  • New York’s JFK: The takeoff charge is US$6.95 is per thousand pounds of maximum gross weight (For a 777-300, that’s US$4,587, or C$5,747)

As you can see, operating our hypothetical Boeing 777-300, which has an MTOW of just over 299,000 kg, will be most expensive at New York JFK but is followed closely by Toronto and Montreal.

Of course, we should note that it’s not just ‘landing fees’ that are imposed on airlines and their jets. Parking charges, airport improvement fees, noise fees, and more are tacked on to the bill. This will vary wildly between jurisdictions, making the comparison a little more challenging.

Why Are Landing Fees So High In Canada?
Toronto’s Pearson International has the highest landing fees in the country. Photo: Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons 

Why the high fees?

Many airports around the world are at least partially privatized. For Canadian airports, however, the Government of Canada set up not-for-profit corporations to “manage, operate and develop designated infrastructures under long-term leases.” This is something somewhat unique to Canada:

“This model, in which the government of Canada retains ownership, is unique in the world. The model currently dominant globally is full or partial privatization, either via an outright sale or via corporatization followed by the sale of the share capital immediately or in phases.” -Aeroports de Montreal

Therefore, the Canadian government remains the owner of airports, including the property. This sees airport operators as ‘tenants’ paying rent to the government. The rents are substantial- and can represent up to 12% of airport revenues, according to The Financial Post.

Why Are Landing Fees So High In Canada?
Montreal airport is Canada’s 3rd busiest airport. Photo: Abdallahh via Wikimedia Commons 

Are airlines (and travelers) getting their money’s worth?

According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2019 Travel And Tourism Competitiveness Report, the answer is yes. While the 2015 report may have placed Canada at 130th place, the country’s rankings have been on the rise. It moved up to 68th in 2017 and then up to 9th in 2019.

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Of course, this index measures a vast number of metrics, including natural resources, health and hygiene, international openness, and much more. But in the category of Air Transport Infrastructure, Canada ranked 1st as recently as two years ago. In the report, the WEF states:

“Canada ranks 1st globally thanks to high-quality air infrastructure (12th), high airport density (5th), airline route capacity (11th) and number of operating carriers (11th).”

Why Are Landing Fees So High In Canada?
Some say that these high landing fees make it more difficult for Canadian airlines to be competitive. Photo: Air Canada

Based on the report’s findings, it seems like Canada’s airports are re-investing those high landing fees back into airport infrastructure. In fact, Skytrax’s 2020 list of best airports has all three of Canada’s largest airports (YVR, YUL, and YYZ) in its Top 10 list for North America, with Vancouver International Airport ranking first in the region.

So at the end of the day, maybe Canadians and visitors to Canada are benefitting from these high fees.

Have you had positive experiences at Canadian airports? How do you think they compare with other airports around the world? Let us know in the comments.