Is Air Canada Safe? (Yes, It Is.)

Whilst Air Canada does not have a perfect safety record, few airlines do, I would consider it a safe airline to fly with. As safe as any other major airline like American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines.

Air Canada is IATA safety certified and its safety regulator, Transport Canada, scores highly in ICAO’s country audit. As a result, I would not have any concerns or worries if I was booked on an Air Canada flight.

In the article below, I explain why this is the case and hopefully provide sufficient information for you to also reach the same point of view.

Is Air Canada Safe?

Air Canada Operates a Large and Modern Fleet

Whilst you might raise an eyebrow if you find out the aircraft you are flying on is “old,” aircraft safety is more about the airline’s aircraft maintenance practices and the airline’s and the regulator’s safety inspection and oversight regime. Older aircraft are perfectly safe if they are properly and regularly maintained.

So, let’s take a look at Air Canada’s fleet and see how it shapes up. This analysis is based on Air Canada, excluding Air Canada Rouge (low-cost subsidiary) and Air Canada Jetz (charter subsidiary).

Air Canada has a large mixed fleet of Boeing and Airbus aircraft, primarily comprising the Airbus A220, A320, A321, A330, B737NG, B737MAX, B777, and B787 Dreamliner. Air Canada also operates one relatively old 767, however, this is listed as a freighter on Airfleets.net so I have excluded this from my analysis. 

According to Airfleets.net the average weighted age of the Air Canada fleet is 9.1 years. By weighted I mean that Airfleets.net has looked at the average age and the number of each aircraft type and has calculated the total average fleet age based on this data. When I exclude the 767 freighter the average fleet age comes down to 8.9 years.

The average Air Canada aircraft ages by aircraft type are shown in the table below. We can see that there is quite a range of ages across the different aircraft types, with Air Canada’s A320s being the oldest type. Air Canada’s youngest aircraft types are its A220s and its 737s.  

Aircraft Number of Aircraft Average Age
Airbus A220 27 1.2
Airbus A320 12 22.7
Airbus A321 15 18.9
Airbus A330 16 16.7
B737MAX 32 3.2
Boeing 777 23 12.1
Boeing 787 37 5.6
Total 162 8.9

So, is an average fleet age of 8.9 years considered “young” or “old?”

The operating life of a modern jet aircraft depends on the number of “cycles” it operates. Aircraft operating an intensive schedule with a lot of short-haul cycles can become life expired more quickly than aircraft that operate a less intensive schedule with fewer longer-haul cycles.

Typically, an airline can expect its aircraft to last for up to 30 years if they are properly and regularly maintained. So, with an average aircraft age of almost 9 years, Air Canada’s aircraft, on average, still have a lot to give.

An average fleet age of more than 9 years is quite typical for a major international airline, so on this basis, Air Canada compares pretty well to other airlines.

For example, Lufthansa’s average fleet age is 10.5 years, United Airlines’ is 16.5 years, British Airways’ is 12.9 years, Delta Air Lines’ is 14.8 years, and Air France’s is 14.3 years.

Air Canada Rouge

Air Canada Is IOSA-Certified and a Founding Member of the Star Alliance

AirlineRatings.com provides a comparison of the world’s airlines from a number of different perspectives; Air Canada has a five out of its maximum seven-star safety rating.

This rating is based on the following:

  • Air Canada is IOSA (IATA Operational Safety Audit) certified. This audit is optional and assesses whether an airline has the necessary systems and processes in place to operate safely. Airlines are evaluated every two years.
  • Air Canada is not blacklisted in the European Union or the United States.
  • Canada performs favorably in ICAO Country Audits which assess a nation’s approach to airline safety oversight and regulation. Air Canada’s safety is regulated by Transport Canada and Canada’s IATA Safety Audit results are very good with effective implementation in the range of 90-100% for the eight areas audited, well above the global average.
  • Air Canada has not suffered any fatal accidents within the last 10 years. However, there have been some notable incidents within this period, in particular a very serious incident at San Francisco International Airport in 2017. Whilst no accident actually occurred, the incident had the potential to be a very serious disaster.

In addition to the above, Air Canada is a member of the Star Alliance, one of the world’s three major airline alliances. Whilst membership of a major airline alliance is not a safety certification per se, it’s still a significant stamp of approval for the airline’s approach to safety and operations.

Other Star Alliance member airlines include Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, ANA, Austrian Airlines, EVA, Lufthansa, SAS, Singapore Airlines, SWISS, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines, and United Airlines.

Air Canada 787

Air Canada Incidents and Accidents

Similar to many large airlines that have had a long operational history and that operate a large fleet, Air Canada’s safety record is not spotlessly clean. If we look at Air Canada incidents (excluding events such as hijackings or lightning strikes) within the last fifty years we see ten, two of which involved fatalities.

The two fatal accidents were in 1978 and 1983, and both involved DC-9 aircraft which no longer fly for Air Canada. The most recent of these two fatal accidents was 39 years ago.

The number of recorded Air Canada incidents needs to be put into context. The best way to do this is to let you know that typically each year Air Canada operates more than half a million flights. 

Date Aircraft Location Commentary
June 1978 DC-9 Toronto Pearson International Airport The aircraft overran the runway after a tire blowout and an aborted take-off. Two of the 107 people on board were killed.
June 1983 DC-9 Cincinnati International Airport There was an electrical fire in the aft lavatory during the flight. This resulted in an emergency landing, during which a sudden influx of oxygen caused a flash fire throughout the cabin; 23 of the 41 passengers died. All five crew members survived.

The non-fatal incidents worth noting are as follows:

Date Aircraft Location Commentary
June 1973 DC-8 Toronto Pearson International Airport The aircraft caught fire and burnt out whilst being refueled.
September 1979 DC-9 Near Boston, USA Shortly after take-off, the entire tail cone section of the aircraft separated resulting in rapid decompression and leaving a large hole in the rear fuselage. The aircraft safely returned to Boston. Fatigue cracks were determined to be the cause.
June 1982 DC-9 Montreal, Quebec The aircraft exploded during maintenance.
July 1983 767 Gimli, Manitoba The aircraft glided to an emergency landing after running out of fuel at 40,000ft. The nose gear collapsed and some people suffered minor injuries during the evacuation.
December 1997 CRJ-100 Fredericton, New Brunswick On arrival at Fredericton, the aircraft stalled in poor visibility then skidded off the runway and hit a tree. Of the 39 passengers and 3 crew members onboard, 9 were seriously injured and the remainder received minor, or no injuries.
March 2015 A320 Halifax, Nova Scotia During approach in Halifax within a severe storm and poor visibility, the aircraft hit the runway approach lights and power lines, landing 300m short of the runway, and breaking off the landing gear. The aircraft slid down the runway and lost one of its engines. All 133 passengers and five crew evacuated and survived. 23 people were sent to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The aircraft was a write-off.
July 2017 A320 San Francisco, USA At the end of a flight from Toronto to San Francisco, the aircraft landed on a taxiway containing four aircraft holding prior to take-off. The Air Canada pilot pulled the aircraft up, and overflew the first two waiting aircraft by just 30m. This incident had the potential to be a very serious accident. Fortunately, disaster was narrowly averted.
February 2020 767 Madrid, Spain The aircraft suffered a tire failure during take-off at Madrid Barajas Airport, causing the left engine to catch fire. The pilots managed to extinguish the fire by shutting the engine down. The aircraft remained in a holding pattern for over 4 hours to burn fuel. Eventually, the aircraft landed safely and no one was injured.

Summary: Is Flying with Air Canada Safe?

Yes, flying with Air Canada is safe. While the airline has had some incidents over the last 50 years or so, there have been no fatal accidents within the last couple of decades.

Air Canada operates with safety protocols and procedures that are endorsed by its IOSA certification. Air Canada is also overseen by Transport Canada which scores above the global average in ICAO’s Country Audits.

Air Canada is one of North America’s biggest airlines, flying half a million flights and transporting tens of millions of passengers each year safely.

If you are wondering what flying with Air Canada is like in terms of service, check the reviews below:

2 thoughts on “Is Air Canada Safe? (Yes, It Is.)”

  1. Hmmm. Seems you missed ACA 781 incident 22 Oct, 2017. The pilots “did not hear” six separate “Go Around orders” OR see the red light gun signal from the tower cab OR the Southwest 737 occupying the runway they were landing on… in broad daylight..

    Also omitted was 7 Mar, 2020 incident where an ACA 777 crew accepted a bad takeoff clearance from CYYZ and accelerated to 133 knots before realizing that the E190 ahead of them had rejected takeoff and was still on the runway.

    Many factors (as always) contributed, but a unifying theme in these more recent incidents is lack of situational awareness by ACA pilots or (worse) a “normalization of abbarency” culture (the 777 pilots admitted they began the takeoff roll fully aware that another aircraft was still on the runway: “We thought they would be airborne soon”. That isn’t incompetence, it’s hubris!

    Oh, and one last thing: Try finding a press release from Air Canada following an incident in which one of its employees are found to be at fault. The silence is deafening.

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