For the past 15 months, Canadians have been advised to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada, but the definition of “essential” travel is open to interpretation and personal judgment.
While it has not been against the rules to fly abroad, COVID-19 testing and quarantine measures, along with the reduced capacity of commercial airlines, have made travel difficult or even prohibitive.
However, many Canadians with the means to do so have been able to leave the country, particularly those with access to private aircraft.
One of the most recognizable private jets anywhere in the world is the Boeing 767 used by Toronto superstar Drake.
The 48-metre-long plane has the words “Air Drake” on both engines, and has Drake’s distinctive owl logo on its tail.
Over the past year, flight data shows the plane made 10 trips out of Canada, including flights to Barbados and the Bahamas.
The aircraft twice departed Ontario during the province’s stay-at-home orders.
The jet that has been regularly used by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté has flown to Hawaii and Tahiti on a number of occasions, according to data from the flight-tracking website ADSB Exchange.
As Canada eases travel restrictions, a Global News analysis of data from various flight-tracking websites reveals that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated travel restrictions, private jets regularly used by wealthy Canadians have frequently flown in and out of the country, sometimes in ways that were not accessible to most Canadians.
Unlike commercial airline passengers, some private jet users may not have had to stay overnight in quarantine hotels.
Global News does not know who was on board any of the flights analyzed in this article.
Drake’s publicist declined to comment to Global News on whether his travel was deemed essential, or whether he stayed in a quarantine hotel.
A spokesperson for Guy Laliberté told Global News that Mr. Laliberté “scrupulously respected” mandatory quarantines since March 2020, but the statement did not answer Global News’ question of whether or not Laliberté stayed in a quarantine hotel.
The Government of Canada has advised all Canadians against non-essential travel, but it says it is up to each traveller “to decide what ‘non-essential travel’ means, based on family or business requirements, knowledge of or familiarity with a country, territory or region, and other factors.”
“The government, in describing us as only doing essential travel, never gave any guidelines as to what essential was,” Prof. Marvin Ryder of the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University told Global News.
According to the flight-tracking websites ADSB Exchange, Flight Radar 24 and FlightAware, private jets have flown from Canada to Mexico, as well as Caribbean destinations such as Saint Martin and The Turks and Caicos Islands, during a period when Canadian commercial airlines agreed to suspend all flights to those destinations.
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Direct commercial flights to Mexico and the Caribbean were halted after Jan. 31, 2021, but Canadian airlines resumed some of those routes in recent weeks.
“How essential were these trips to parts of Mexico and the Caribbean is an argument here. Yes, we know that some of these islands are centres of offshore banking. I might very well have accounts there. I might very well have deals to make in that area,” said Ryder.
“On the other hand, if you were going to Cancun, Cancun’s major industry is simply tourism, and it’s hard to justify why it was essential for you to go there if all you were going to do was lay on the beach and work on your tan.”
Unlike some other flight-monitoring websites, ADSB Exchange does not block data from private and military aircraft.
However it also does not list the departure airport or arrival airport for flights, but by tracking the flight paths and altitudes at the start and end of a flight, the departure and arrival airports can usually be deduced.
The site uses a worldwide network of receivers that track aircraft transponder data.
Flight tracking data does not show who was on board a jet during a flight.
In February 2021, the federal government introduced the requirement for almost all arriving international passengers to pre-book a non-refundable three-night stay at a government-authorized quarantine hotel.
Ottawa also mandated that most arriving passenger aircraft must land at one of four airports where the government-authorized hotels are located — Calgary, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver — with the exception of small “general aviation” aircraft.
None of the aircraft analyzed by Global News are classified by Transport Canada as “general aviation” aircraft.
But on many occasions, private jets — some owned by companies including Irving Oil Transportation and CFFI Ventures — quickly flew-on to smaller Canadian airports where the outbound flights originated from.
Global News does not know if passengers remained on board for those onward flights, and there is no evidence that any laws or rules were broken.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) told Global News, “Travellers who are subject to a quarantine order upon arrival at one of the four designated airports are not permitted to board a flight for onward domestic travel in Canada prior to completing their quarantine obligations.”
But travellers only have to stay in the quarantine hotels until their airport COVID-19 test results are returned negative.
If those test results come back negative within an hour or two, travellers do not need to stay overnight at the hotel at all, although they will not get a refund on the pre-booked three-night stay.
A PHAC statement also said “There are no separate provisions for air travellers arriving in Canada by business or private aircraft. These travellers are subject to the same rules and regulations as travellers seeking entry by commercial aircraft, including the requirement for a 3-day hotel stay at a government approved accommodation.”
As previously reported by CBC News, and according to a Global News source, some private jet passengers arriving into Canada can use rapid testing services that allow them to legally bypass having to stay in a hotel, because they can receive their results faster than commercial airline passengers. They can then spend their entire quarantine period at home.
Norejko suggests it has been possible for this to occur.
“If you could receive the negative result on day one, that removed you from the obligation,” he said.
“There might have been a few instances where after completing that CBSA test kit, they received the result in a timely fashion, and they left as you would and as was directed in the order in council (legislation).”
Global News asked a number of private jet operators at large airports if they offer this service.
Only Chartright Air Group at Toronto Pearson airport responded, saying it does not discuss operational issues, and in a statement said it “does not condone or tolerate any attempt by passengers to dodge their responsibilities when arriving in Canada.”
Transport Canada told Global News it “is currently examining six cases of potential or alleged violations of NOTAM (notice to airmen) restrictions,” but it did not specify what those were.
Norejko says, to his knowledge, no CBAA members have been accused of violations.
“We have not had a PHAC charge or investigation to date on a business aviation arrival into Canada that we are aware of from an association level.”
Norejko says the business aviation sector in Canada has seen a drop of about 30 percent in domestic traffic, and 70 percent fall in international traffic, compared with pre-pandemic levels.
According to Statistics Canada, in April 2021, major Canadian airline traffic was 94.56 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.
This publicly-available flight data suggests that — unlike most Canadians — the wealthy have been able to travel much more freely during the pandemic.
Drake’s Very Own Jet
Flight data shows the distinctive Boeing 767 used by Drake has made 10 departures out of Canada since the start of the pandemic.
Here are the details of where the plane has been.
Since April 1, 2021, the aircraft has been in the U.S., flying between destinations in California, Nevada and Georgia.
The Boeing 767 used by Drake was built in 1996 and is operated by Hamilton, Ont.-based Cargojet Inc., as part of a publicity partnership with the rapper.
The Montreal-based jet regularly used by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté flew to Tahiti on six occasions between November 2020 and February 2021.
Here are details of other flights it took.
The Bombardier Global 6000 jet has a distinctive striped design on its fuselage, and has a tail number of C-GCDS (which could stand for G-uy C-irque D-u S-oliel). It is owned by IMP Group Ltd, and based at Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, and is currently listed as available to charter.
An aviation enthusiast YouTube account called ‘Rare Tahitian Air/Port Views’ shows the jet landing in Papeete, Tahiti on Nov. 5.
On Nov. 9, 2020, Laliberté posted a sunset photo on Instagram with the caption, “Today while watching the Nuku sunset we had a visit from a cosmic frog ….. it made our day”.
Laliberte is a member of the band The Frog Collective.
Laliberté owns the tiny Nukutepipi atoll and its luxury resort, located 750 km southeast of Tahiti island.
Smaller propeller aircraft are required to land at the remote atoll.
A Twin Otter propeller aircraft based in Papeete, Tahiti, has the same distinctive paint scheme as the Bombardier jet used by Laliberté.
Nukutepipi is available to rent on Airbnb for $1.4 million a week.
Guy Laliberte’s Instagram and Soundcloud accounts indicate he performed a DJ set in Hawaii on March 20, 2021.
In response to questions from Global News, an email from Laliberté’s spokesperson Anne Dongois refused to comment on his “personal or professional travels.”
However, Dongois said, “I can confirm that Guy and all guests that traveled onboard of C-GCDS between March 2020 and today have scrupulously respected all sanitary measures in force in the different countries visited, including mandatory quarantines.”
The email did not address the question of whether Laliberté spent time in a quarantine hotel.
Jets owned by Canadian businesses including Irving Oil Transport, Inc., and CFFI Ventures Ltd. have been among those to make foreign trips this year.
All have jets that landed back into Canada after the introduction of the mandatory hotel quarantine.
Saint John, New Brunswick-based Irving Oil Transport, Inc. has two Bombardier Challenger 350s, registered as C-FALI and C-FKCI (KC Irving was the founder of the Irving business empire). According to ADSB Exchange, their only flights outside of Canada during the pandemic have been to and from Bedford, Mass.
C-FALI made trips from Bedford to Saint John on both Feb. 27 and April 23, via stops in Montreal that both lasted about one hour.
On May 13 and May 21, C-FKCI made one-day round-trips from Saint John to Bedford and directly back to Saint John without going via one of Canada’s four main airports.
If the plane was carrying only crew this would have broken no rules, but if there were passengers on board — who were not exempt from entry requirements — this may have been against Canadian government guidelines that mandate jet-engined, non-recreational aircraft carrying passengers land first at one of Canada’s four main international airports.
Irving Oil Ltd. did not respond to questions from Global News.
The co-founder of Clearwater Seafoods, John Risley, is CEO of CFFI Ventures Inc., which is the registered owner of three aircraft: a turboprop Cessna and two Bombardier jets with the tail numbers C-FFIJ and C-FFIP.
A spokesperson for Clearwater Seafoods says Clearwater and CFFI Ventures are “unrelated” companies.
According to data on FlightAware.com, on May 14, C-FFIP made a one-hour stop in Toronto Pearson International Airport on its way back to Halifax from Dallas, Texas.
On May 27, C-FFIJ made a 79-minute stop in Toronto, on the way back to Halifax from a trip to Rostock, Germany.
A spokesperson for CFFI Ventures told Global News “CFFI Ventures has an extensive history of using its private air fleet to run and grow its business. Our fleet is professionally operated in accordance with good business practice, including all guidelines, rules and laws of the agencies that regulate our air travel.”
The owner of Major League Soccer (MLS) team CF Montreal (formerly Montreal Impact), Giuseppe “Joey” Saputo, has also been among those to make trips abroad.
The jet he regularly uses is owned by Aviation Jolina SEC, a partner company of Jolina Capital Inc., which is controlled by his father, Emanuele “Lino” Saputo, the founder of the dairy giant Saputo Inc.
The Bombardier Global Express – with the likely-personalized tail number C-GSAP – has made regular flights to-and-from Florida this year, likely due to CF Montreal basing itself in Fort Lauderdale for the 2021 MLS season.
Joey Saputo also made two trips to Bologna, Italy, where he owns Bologna F.C., a soccer team in Italy’s top league, Serie A.
Since February, 22, the Bombardier has landed in Montreal from flights originating outside of Canada on at least five occasions.
Global News reached out to CF Montreal with questions regarding testing and hotel quarantine, but CF Montreal did not respond.
Many private jets in Canada are operated by aviation management companies, which look after the aircraft maintenance and operations on behalf of someone else.
It can be difficult to identify if there is one regular user of a particular plane.
That’s because, according to Transport Canada’s Canadian Civil Aircraft Register, an aircraft “owner” can be the entity that has “custody and control” of the aircraft, rather than the actual title holder.
The Bombardier Challenger 600, with tail number C-FGFG, is owned by Toronto Pearson-based aviation management company Skyservice Business Aviation Inc.
According to website Flight Radar 24, it flew from Peterborough, Ont. to Halifax to Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands, on March 28, 2021.
It returned to Canada on April 12, landing at Montréal-Trudeau International Airport.
Seventy-four minutes later the plane proceeded to Halifax.
The jet again flew from Halifax to Providenciales on May 12, returning to Halifax via a 100-minute stop in Toronto on May 20.
It is not known if there were passengers on board during either final return leg to Halifax.
Skyservice Business Aviation did not respond to Global News questions regarding essential travel, testing and hotel quarantine.
The Bombardier Global Express with the prestigious tail number C-GOLD is also registered as owned by Skyservice Business Aviation.
Data indicates it flew from Toronto to Stuttgart, Germany at least 11 times since October 2020, suggesting a regular, if not exclusive, user of the jet.
C-GOLD flew out of Toronto Pearson International Airport five times while Ontario was observing a stay-at-home order.
The jet has landed in Toronto from foreign destinations on seven occasions since the introduction of the introduction of arrival testing and quarantine hotel measures in February 2021.
One of those arrivals was from a Caribbean island, on May 3, 2021 — likely Anguilla, Saint Martin or Saint Barthélemy (St. Barts).
Skyservice is also the registered owner and operator of a distinctive grey-coloured Dassault Falcon-2000, with a large ‘W’ on its tail. Its tail number is C-GSMR.
That jet visited Mexico, Saint Martin and Costa Rica in January 2021.
An “empty-leg” quote (for when the plane is flying empty anyway) on Skyservice’s website in June 2021 said a one-way, three-hour flight from Toronto to Nassau, Bahamas on this model of aircraft was available for $26,750 before tax.
On Feb. 1, during Ontario’s first stay-at-home order of 2021, and after Canadian commercial airlines had suspended flights to Mexico and the Caribbean, the Falcon flew to Saint Martin, stopping for 90 minutes before returning to Toronto.
The jet has landed in Toronto or Montreal from foreign destinations on at least five occasions since the introduction of hotel quarantine measures.
Skyservice says it manages 75 aircraft. According to Transport Canada, Skyservice is the registered owner of 55 aircraft, including a Boeing 737.
While Ontario was observing a stay-at-home order, a British Aerospace 125 jet (C-FBUR), operated by Toronto-based Skycharter Limited, flew from Toronto to Providenciales, in the Turks and Caicos Islands on Feb. 20, 2021.
The same aircraft flew from Toronto to Santo Domingo in the Domincan Republic, via Grand Rapids, Michigan on April 9, during an Ontario stay-at-home order.
It returned to Toronto on April 11.
The jet also made a one-day round trip to Cancun, Mexico on May 1.
Skycharter did not respond to Global News questions regarding essential travel, testing and hotel quarantine.
In May 2021, a Bombardier Challenger 600 jet operated by Toronto Pearson-based Chartright Air Inc. flew three roundtrips from Toronto to Providenciales, in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Chartright told Global News it does not discuss or publicize client or operational issues.
In a statement it said, “With the guidance of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) Chartright has been able to confirm all passengers flying aboard Chartright aircraft fully understand their obligations when arriving in Canada from international destinations. Chartright is grateful to PHAC for their leadership and patience during this difficult period. Chartright does not condone or tolerate any attempt by passengers to dodge their responsibilities when arriving in Canada.”
According to Transport Canada, Chartright owns 39 aircraft, including helicopters, smaller propeller aircraft and corporate jets.