7.1 Trends in air traffic

Last Updated: 
May 28, 2015


This indicator tracks changes in the daily number of aircraft take-offs and landings averaged per year at each airport in each ecozone. Air traffic information is presented per airport for local aircraft types (helicopters, piston and turboprop fixed wing aircraft) that, due to their short flight range and relatively low altitude flying, are considered most likely to be associated with local air traffic disturbance to people or wildlife.

Jet movements are available but are not tracked in this indicator because in the Northwest Territories (NWT) they almost never fly at the low altitudes most associated with ground disturbance of wildlife. Jet landings and take-offs may, however, be the cause of disturbance near airports. 

This information is summarized from annual reports published by Statistics Canada, who compile information from NAV Canada, Transport Canada, and regional airport personnel reporting to the Aviation Statistics Centre.

Piston aircraft flying over the southern Arctic
Piston aircraft flying over the southern Arctic.

Helicopter landed on the Taiga Plains
Helicopter landed on the Taiga Plains.

NWT focus

NWT residents have noticed an increase in air traffic in the past few decades. Not all air traffic disturbs people or wildlife, but if even a small percentage does, then an increase in air traffic may result in an increase in disturbance.

Current view: status and trend

Aviation statistics show low daily local air traffic--that is, for helicopters, turboprops, and piston aircraft--with small increases in 2001, 2007 and 2010-2011 at some airports in the Northern and Southern Arctic. Data prior to 2000 is not readily available for these airports.

Local aircraft: helicopters, turboprops, and piston aircraft only. Source: Information from annual reports TP577(11) by Statistics Canada, Transport Canada, and Aviation Statistics Centre. 

Local air traffic at two regional airports in the NWT, Inuvik (northern edge of Taiga Plains), and Norman Wells (western edge of the Taiga Plains), had seen a slight increase until 2008, when a decline occurred. In 2012, non-jet air traffic in Norman Wells was higher than in Inuvik.

Air traffic is higher than elsewhere in all three larger airports in the NWT (Inuvik, Norman Wells and Yellowknife). These airports serve as transportation hubs for a wide range of human activities including exploration, mine or oil-gas development, tourism, hunting, fishing, and others. Most aircraft used for these activities are helicopters, turboprops and piston aircrafts. The timing of the declines and increases in airport activities correlates with the global economic trends, and changes in exploration activities in the NWT. 

Looking around

The highest average daily rate of helicopter traffic in the NWT was 17 per day measured in 2007 in Yellowknife1. This is twice the helicopter traffic observed in Whitehorse, Yukon, and make Yellowknife the fourth busiest area for helicopter traffic in western Canada, after Vancouver (about 70 per day), Calgary (40), Edmonton (40), and Abbotsford (40)2.

    Other focal points

    • See DEMOGRAPHY focal point for information on the number of people in the NWT.

    For more information

    Technical notes 

    Major airports in the NWT have either a control tower (Yellowknife) or a Flight Service Station (Inuvik and Norman Wells) where all aircraft landings and takeoffs are recorded every day. Airport personnel take note of aircraft movements at all other airports for most days. Lost data for some days with low traffic can occur, so data was not used if air traffic was recorded for less than 100 days during a given year at a specific airport. Some historical data were not readily available. 


    Ref. 1. Statistics Canada. 2013. Aircraft Movement Statistics: NAV Canada and Flight Service Stations: Annual Report.

    Ref. 2. Transport Canada, Aviation Statistics Centre, Statistics Canada. 2013. Aircraft movement Statistics TP577, Statistics Canada.

    Updated: May 28, 2015