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What rules govern the ownership of airports (both public and private)?

The 26 most used airports in Canada – mostly in the national and provincial or territorial capitals – are members of the National Airports System (NAS). Together they service 94% of the scheduled passenger and cargo traffic in Canada.

The federal government began divesting itself of these facilities in 1994 and now each of these aerodromes is operated by a local airport authority managed by a not-for-profit board of directors (many of which are government appointees), which is intended to be self-sustaining.

The federal government has retained ownership of the underlying land at the airports and has entered into long-term ground leases with each NAS airport. The ground lease rates (which are often pegged at a percentage of airport revenue) have been a matter of significant controversy, with some commentators claiming that lease payments may be as high as 30% of operating budgets.

As the original terms on the ground leases approach their expiry date, there has been increased public discourse on fully privatising the NAS’s operations. Some of the available options were most recently discussed a 2016 review of transportation in Canada entitled “Pathways: Connecting Canada's Transportation System to the World”. 


What is the authorisation procedure for the operation of airports?

Certification of an airport in Canada is governed by Part III of the Canadian Aviation Regulations (SOR/96-433). The Transport Canada standards are listed in TP 312 – Aerodrome Standards and Recommended Practices. Certification is required only when:

  • the aerodrome is located within the built-up area of a city or town;
  • the aerodrome is by an air carrier as a main operations base or for scheduled passenger-carrying service; or
  • the minister considers certification is in the public interest.

In order to obtain certification as an airport, the applicant must submit an airport operations manual to the minister of transport for approval. The airport operations manual must demonstrate that the proposed airport meets “the applicable standards and recommended practices publications… and satisfies an conditions specified by the ‘[minister of transport]”.

Once certified, the particulars of the aerodrome are published in:

  • Canada Air Pilot;
  • Canada Flight Supplement;
  • Water Aerodrome Supplement; or
  • AIP Canada.

What ongoing operating requirements apply (including obligations relating to safety, security and facilities maintenance)?

Airports in Canada are subject to regulation under the Aeronautics Act (RSC 1985, c A-2) and the regulations thereunder, particularly Part III (Aerodromes, Airports and Heliports) of the Canadian Aviation Regulations. The standards are further detailed in Transport Canada publications, such as TP 312 – Aerodrome Standards and Recommended Practices.

In accordance with Section 302.08(5) of the Canadian Aviation Regulations, certified airports must be operated in accordance with the airport operations manual, as described above.

Finally, the ground leases at airports executed with the federal government provide a significant amount of quasi-regulatory direction to the boards of airports as to the manner in which their operations are to be carried out.

Airport charges

What airport charges apply and how are they regulated?

There are two main airport charges in Canada. The first is the air travellers security charge, which is set by Parliament and its collection is administered by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). All carriers operating in Canada must register for the collection of this charge. The CRA conducts audits on a regular basis to ensure compliance.

The second charge that may levied is the airport improvement fee (AIF). The applicability and amount of the AIF is set by each airport in Canada. AIFs are typically implemented to undertake capital projects and to service debt.

In both cases, the amount of the charge is collected by the air carrier and remitted to the CRA or the local airport authority as the case may be.


What regulations govern access to airports?

Domestic carriers holding licences from the Canadian Transportation Agency have access to Canadian airports as of right. The same is also true for foreign carriers, provided that they have bilateral or extra-bilateral authority to access the airport in question.

Slot allocation

What regime governs the allocation of airport slots (including slot transfer, revocation and disputes)?

Most of the NAS airports in Canada are not slot controlled. The exceptions are Toronto Pearson (YYZ), Toronto City Centre (YTZ) and Vancouver International (YVR). Both YYZ and YVR are International Air Transport Association (IATA) coordinated (Level 3) for the entire season and therefore:

  • participate in the IATA Slot Conference;
  • are subject to the IATA Worldwide Slot Guidelines; and
  • have appointed a slot coordinator.

Slots at YTZ are overseen by the Toronto Port Authority.

Ground handling

How are ground handling services regulated?

For the most part, there is no specific regulation of ground handling service providers in Canada. However, they are governed by the laws of general application, including the Competition Act (RSC c C-34), as well as the laws of general application to the airport environment.

The agency has previously issued rulings suggesting that accessibility complaints brought by passengers with disabilities relating to difficulty in using airport services do not require the involvement of ground handlers providing those services.

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