Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Flying club tries to land Brandon deal

In talks with Air Canada to bring regional service to Westman

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BRANDON -- While the city is unabashedly flirting with WestJet in an attempt to bring the carrier to the Wheat City, the Brandon Flying Club has quietly been in talks with Air Canada Jazz to launch a charter service, the Brandon Sun has learned.

The club is looking west, with the potential for regular flights to Edmonton, Calgary and maybe even Vancouver.

In the last two months, a representative from Jazz, Air Canada's regional brand, approached the flying club with a unique proposal: the flying club would offer regular service through a bilateral leasing agreement, meaning the airline would provide the aircraft and the club would provide the maintenance service, manpower, booking, de-icing and concierge service.

Kevin Choy, the five-year president of the club, said Friday these early-stage talks have a good chance of developing into a solid agreement -- but the club has to act fast.

"What I can say is Air Canada Jazz approached us in our discussions to possibly build up a leasing program with them," Choy said.

"We are talking with Air Canada to do a possible leasing program... It's early right now, it's a proposal, but I think it's quite viable."

If the stars are aligned, Choy said it's possible to see such a charter service out of Brandon in the next two to three years -- with or without Air Canada.

Government approval and an economic assessment are the major hurdles that lie ahead of the club. While Brandon continues to swoon over the romantic idea of regional air service, Choy thinks there are clear economic benefits too good to pass up.

"It's possible, I really think it is," he said. "The whole idea is that this area is booming. If oil continues... it can really, really happen."

Air Canada denied it was in talks with the flying club when contacted by the Brandon Sun.

Many Brandonites are happy with driving two hours and spending the day in Winnipeg before hopping on a plane, which is why this agreement is looking west, to cater to the increasing number of Albertans who come to southwest Manitoba to do business near the Bakken oil formation.

"Retail and agriculture has also grown in the area, so it makes it quite viable to do this," Choy added.

Included in the proposal are two Air Canada Jazz-branded planes, a turboprop 19-passenger Beechcraft 1900 and a Bombardier CRJ, which can have between 40 and 80 seats.

A charter program such as this allows the country's largest airline to test the market with fewer consequences, with a facility already in place for plane maintenance and pilots to fly the planes, Choy said.

Choy said the club has been largely ignored in the city's efforts to woo WestJet onto its landing strip, which he attributes to the popular notion the flying club is a place for wealthy people to fly personal planes.

-- Brandon Sun

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2013 A11

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