161 Days to Clear the Island

I subscribe to the Charlottetown Airport email newsletter. There’s a lot of “air travel is awesome” marketing therein, but there’s compelling information too; yesterday’s newsletter provided the “seats per day” figures for the fall flight schedule (September 6 – October 28, 2017):

AIRLINE MARKET FLIGHTS/DAY SEATS/DAY
 Air Canada Toronto 2 336-400
 Air Canada Ottawa 1 50
 Air Canada Montreal 2 214
 Air Canada Halifax 4* 72
 WestJet Toronto 1 134-168

It’s interesting to see the airport’s capacity expressed this way: boiled down, it means that there’s space for 904 people to leave the Island by air every day. This means that if everyone had to leave the Island for some reason, using only scheduled flights, it would take 161 days.

I called the airport to ask about the “fall flight schedule” because I was intrigued that there seemed to be coordination here between WestJet and Air Canada, and I wondered whether there’s some sort of international “flight season” calendar. What I learned is that there is a standard seasonal schedule internationally, but it’s limited to two seasons, winter and summer; here on PEI, because there’s such a marked change between summer tourist traffic and the rest of the year, the airport has a sort of “season within a season” that they call the “fall season,” and that’s what runs from September 6 to October 28, with the winter season starting on October 29.

Because airlines operate as a sort of quasi-interconnected global network, it makes sense that there would be some sort of changeover date, to allow better coordination of airport slots and airline interconnection. The standards behind this are coordinated by the International Airline Transport Association, and are published in its Worldwide Slot Guidelines publication. In there you’ll find the definition of the flight seasons:

Season: the summer season commencing on the last Sunday in March, or the winter season commencing on the last Sunday in October.

This is done under the rubric of “slot guidelines” because, for airlines and airports, that’s the most important thing about a schedule: there needs to be a place to load and unload a plane at the departure and destination airports. The IATA defines a “slot” as:

Slot: a permission given by a coordinator for a planned operation to use the full range of airport infrastructure necessary to arrive or depart at a Level 3 airport on a specific date and time.

The international “slot coordination” process doesn’t include Charlottetown Airport, it seems, because we have a “Level 1” airport, where “an airport where the capacities of all infrastructure at the airport are generally adequate to meet the demands of users at all times.” In other words, things aren’t tight enough here that we need to conference about it.

In Canada the only “Level 3” airports, according to this IATA spreadsheet, are Toronto and Vancouver; Calgary, Montreal and Quebec are “Level 2.” Everything else is a “Level 1.”

The Winter 2017 flight season (known in the trade as W17/18) starts October 29, 2017 and ends on March 24, 2018; the Summer 2018 season (S18) starts on March 25, 2018. Airlines start coordinating for Summer 2018 next month.