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Air Canada flies 100,000 passengers in one day for first time since March 2020

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TORONTO, April 27, 2020 .Photo taken on April 27, 2020 shows check-in counters of Air Canada at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Canada. Air Canada suspended all scheduled flights to the United States for four weeks starting on Monday. As of Monday afternoon, there were 48,230 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada and 2,701 deaths. (Photo by Zou Zheng/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Zou Zheng via Getty Images)
Air Canada said on Monday it flew 100,701 customers on April 15. (Xinhua/Zou Zheng via Getty Images)

Air Canada (AC.TO) flew more than 100,000 passengers in one day for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, another sign that the airline's recovery is underway as travel demand returns.

The Montreal-based airline said on Monday that it flew 100,701 customers on April 15. The last time Air Canada carried more than 100,000 passengers on its planes in a single day was on March 13, 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and governments closed borders, introduced unprecedented travel restrictions and airlines dramatically cut capacity.

"Clearly there is pent-up demand for travel that is matched only by our enthusiasm to welcome back our customers," Kevin O'Connor, Air Canada's vice-president of systems operations, said in a statement.

"It is also significant that we passed this milestone smoothly, indicating Air Canada has recovered operationally from COVID-19's effects and is prepared to safely and conveniently transport customers during the busy summer ahead."

While demand has started to recover, it is still short of what Air Canada was flying before the pandemic. In 2019, the airline carried an average of 150,000 people on a daily basis. It hit a record and flew 187,000 customers in one day on Aug. 16, 2019.

The carrier announced last month that it will boost its full-year seat capacity by 150 per cent compared to 2021 levels as COVID-19 restrictions ease in Canada and around the world and demand ramps up. But the airline noted that a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels will take longer, as this year's capacity levels represent 75 per cent of what Air Canada flew in 2019. The airline says it expects capacity to reach 95 per cent of its 2019 levels by 2024.

Air Canada is also facing additional challenges as it continues through the post-pandemic recovery, including a sudden spike in jet fuel prices spurred by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and increased competition in the domestic airline market.

Still, National Bank Financial analyst Cameron Doerksen said in a note to clients last week that a fulsome rebound in air travel demand will support a better financial performance at Air Canada. Doerksen maintained a stock rating of "outperform" for the company and set a share price target of $31. The airline's stock was trading at $23.26 just before 3 p.m. ET on Monday, a decline of less than one per cent from the previous day's close.

"Air Canada will face some near-term headwinds from higher fuel prices and increased competition on domestic and leisure routes in the coming quarters, but we continue to see a more fulsome recovery in both operations and financials as the key underlying driver for a higher stock price over the next two years," Doerksen wrote.

Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.

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