Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS)

Industrial Summary

Air, Rail, Water and Pipeline Transportation Services

(NAICS 4811-4812; 4821; 4831-4832; 4861-4869; 4871-4879; 4881-4889)

This industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in transporting passengers and merchandises by air, rail and water. It also includes establishments transporting goods by pipeline (such as crude oil, natural gas and refined petroleum), those providing recreational transportation services (such as sightseeing or dinner cruises and steam train excursions), as well as those providing support services to various transportation establishments (specific to a mode of transportation or multi-modal). Support services are the largest of the six segments, accounting for 36% of production and 44% of employment in 2018. Other major segments include: air transportation (21% of production and 30% of employment); rail transportation (18%, 13%); and pipeline transportation (21%, 7%). Overall, the industry employed 264,700 workers in 2018, mostly concentrated in Ontario (27%), Quebec (23%), British Columbia (19%) and Alberta (17%), with a workforce primarily composed of men (69%). Key occupations (4-digit NOC) include:

  • Air pilots, flight engineers, flying instructors (2271)
  • Transport truck drivers (7511)
  • Airline ticket and service agents (6523)
  • Pursers and flight attendants (6522)
  • Aircraft mechanics and aircraft inspectors (7315)
  • Public works maintenance equipment operators and related workers (7522)
  • Managers in transportation (0731)
  • Supervisors, supply chain, tracking and scheduling co-ordination occupations (1215)
  • Railway and yard locomotive engineers (7361)
  • Air transport ramp attendants (7534)
  • Deck officers, water transport (2273)
  • Customs, ship and other brokers (1315)
  • Longshore workers (7451)
  • Air traffic controllers and related occupations (2272)
  • Railway yard and track maintenance workers (7531)
  • Railway conductors and brakemen/women (7362)
  • Water transport deck and engine room crew (7532)
  • Supervisors, railway transport operations (7304)
  • Railway carmen/women (7314)
  • Boat and cable ferry operators and related occupations (7533)
  • Ground and water transport ticket agents, cargo service representatives and related clerks (6524)
  • Railway and motor transport labourers (7622)
  • Railway traffic controllers and marine traffic regulators (2275)
  • Engineer officers, water transport (2274)

The industry relies heavily on domestic and foreign demand for travel as well as on transportation and international trade of merchandises. After being negatively affected by the recession of 2008-2009, output in the industry quickly recovered in 2010 and 2011, driven by the recovery in domestic and global economic conditions, which resulted in increased discretionary spending on travel and tourism activities and renewed growth in international trade. Growth in output remained solid in subsequent years and was particularly strong from 2014 to 2018 as the industry benefited from the sharp drop in crude oil prices in 2014-2015, which resulted in lower fuel costs and a weaker Canadian dollar. More precisely, lower fuel costs have allowed airlines to reduce fare prices, stimulating demand for their services, while a weaker currency has attracted a higher number of international travelers flying to Canada and encouraged more Canadians to choose vacation within the country and use routes exclusively served by domestic airlines. A weaker currency has also contributed to increase Canadian exports, supporting demand for the transportation of goods by rail, boat or air cargo. On average, real GDP and employment in the industry increased at annual rates of 3.6% and 1.7% respectively over the period 2009-2018, outperforming the overall economy in terms of output growth and job creation, primarily driven by the solid performance of the air transportation and support services segments. In addition to low fuel prices and a favourable currency situation, robust labour markets in the United States and Canada have also contributed to push demand for air travel to record levels over the past few years, although the pace of growth started to weaken in 2018.

While broad economic conditions remain positive for the industry over the projection period, the tailwinds that have propelled the industry to new heights will begin to soften, resulting in slower output growth relative to the period 2009-2018. Most of the adjustments to the lower currency have been realized and although the increases in oil prices are projected to be modest, they will put upward pressures on fares and downward pressures on demand. High consumer debt levels and the slower pace of growth anticipated in disposable income in Canada (resulting from slower growth in the working-age population and massive retirements of baby-boomers) are also expected to put pressures on household budgets, restraining discretionary spending on travel and tourism activities. Another factor that could restrain growth in spending on air travel moving forward is climate change activism. On a more positive note, demand for air travel is rising in line with higher incomes in emerging markets, particularly in Asia, while the growing interconnectedness of the global economy is expected to stimulate business travel between Canada and the rest of the world. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA)(6), the number of air travel passengers worldwide could double over the next 20 years, up from 4.1 billion passengers per year today to 8.2 billion passengers, which is the equivalent of the global population.

The stronger pace of growth projected in exports (supported by a robust U.S. economy and greater diversification of export markets resulting from new trade agreements with the European Union and the Asia-Pacific region) is also expected to support the demand for the transportation of merchandises by air cargo, rail or boat. However, the slowdown anticipated in global economic growth and threats of greater protectionism and tighter border control could curtail trade and travel between countries. The development of new pipelines, including the expansion of the Enbridge Line 3 to be completed by the second half of 2020, is an additional factor expected to support growth in the industry, although notable pipeline projects, such as the Trans Mountain expansion project and the Keystone XL project, are challenged through various political, legal, social and environmental channels. The resulting pace of growth in the industry’s real GDP is projected to average 1.8% annually over the period 2019-2028, a notable slowdown relative to the previous decade. Employment growth is also projected to weaken, averaging 1.0% per year. The growing number of competitors on the domestic and international markets will inevitably force the industry, particularly Canadian airlines, to increase efficiency and productivity at the expense of employment. The introduction of self-service kiosk operation in airports around the world has increased efficiency across all aspects of the check-in and passenger processing system. Other factors enhancing productivity include measures that speed up maintenance work and the marketing of air services, as well as changes in the industry structure through mergers and acquisitions. In Canada, two major acquisitions are in the pipeline: Air Canada acquiring Air Transat and Onex Corporation acquiring WestJet, providing that both transactions receive regulatory approvals.

Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Air, Rail, Water and Pipeline Transportation Services

Figure showing the annual average growth rates of real GDP and employment over the periods 2009-2018 and 2019-2028 for the industry of air, rail, water and pipeline transportation services. The data is shown on the table following this figure

Sources: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2019 COPS industrial projections.

Text Version of Figure Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Air, Rail, Water and Pipeline Transportation Services (%, annual average)
  Real GDP Employment
2009-2018 3.6 1.7
2019-2028 1.8 1.0

Sources: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2019 COPS industrial projections.


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