National Airports Policy

This document is the original version of the National Airports Policy as published in 1994. For an update on the current status of airport transfers, please consult the Airport Divestiture Status Report. The individual fact sheets for the airports are not available.

This page explains the National Airport Policy, its historical context and related issues. It details the implementation of the airports system and resulting regulations. It also contains fact sheets on 151 airports.

New direction for transportation in Canada

The Government of Canada recognizes the need for a realistic, achievable vision for transportation and new partnerships to move the Canadian transportation system into the 21st century.

Efficient, reliable, safe, competitively-priced and environmentally-sound transportation systems to move people and goods are essential to maintaining Canada's competitive edge. However, Canada's current transportation system -- despite many past successes and significant achievements -- is in danger of becoming a liability rather than an advantage to Canadian businesses and consumers.

Much of the Canadian transportation system is overbuilt:

  • 94 per cent of all air passengers and cargo use only 26 of 726 airports;
  • 84 per cent of all rail traffic uses only 33 per cent of the railway lines;
  • 80 per cent of all marine traffic passes through only 30 of 300 public ports.

The transportation system is not cost-free and many services are now being heavily subsidized. Through the federal government alone, Canadian taxpayers are directly subsidizing the Canadian transportation system at a cost of $1.6 billion this year, and indirect subsidies raise the total to $2.3 billion.

Direct subsidies include:

  • $590 million under the Western Grain Transportation Act;
  • $100 million under the Maritime Freight Rate Assistance Act; and the Atlantic Region Freight Assistance Act;
  • $330 million for passenger rail services;
  • $160 million for ferry services;
  • $100 million for harbours and ports;
  • $30 million for underused railway branch lines.

Indirect subsidies include $385 million for Canadian Coast Guard aids to navigation and icebreaking services.

A fundamental challenge, therefore, is to replace the present transportation regime with an integrated and affordable national system that emphasizes safety, reliability and efficiency and that builds strong, viable companies in all modes.

This and other challenges must be faced at a time when Canada's economy is in transition. Many of these changes reflect international trends towards the globalization of markets, economic integration, new commercial strategies and technologies and falling barriers to cross-border trade.

In this changing environment, the question is to what extent transportation will be part of the solution -- or part of the problem.

The February 1994 Budget called on Transport Canada to review the potential for commercialization of a number of its major activities. The department will undertake the review in consultation with affected parties, with the objective of improving efficiency and assuring long-term viability.

Commercialization is any of a series of approaches by which market discipline and business principles can be introduced to traditional government activity. It ranges from government agencies to not-for-profit organizations, to public and private-sector partnerships, to employee-run companies, to Crown corporations to privatization.

Commercialization will not dilute Transport Canada's highest priority: ensuring and, where possible, enhancing the safety and security of Canadians.

In working towards a more commercialized transportation system, the government will examine:

  • the role and structure of Crown corporations;
  • the future of passenger rail in Canada;
  • the reduction or elimination of most subsidies and a better balance between user-pay and user say;
  • the commercialization of airport operations, the air navigation system and some activities of the Canadian Coast Guard;
  • the elimination of outdated and unnecessary regulations and streamlining of the regulation-making process;
  • the shift from subsidies to investments in infrastructure and new technology.

Criteria the government will consider in meeting these challenges include:

  • safe and secure transportation standards, rules and regulations;
  • Constitutional, legal and fiduciary obligations;
  • reasonable service to Canada's remote communities and for Canadians with disabilities;
  • respect for the environment.

With these changes, Canada will prosper from a system that is more effective, more affordable and more realistic in meeting the nation's transportation needs in the 21st century.