Porter Airlines not ready to touch down in city… yet
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Winnipeg is not the first choice of the upstart Toronto-based Porter Airlines.
However, the premium economy airline may be regularly touching down in the prairie city by the end of next year, an expert predicts.
“It’s just a question of time rather than a question of omission,” said John Gradek, a lecturer in aviation management at McGill University.
Porter Airlines is expanding across Canada. In recent weeks, the company has announced regular flights to major cities including Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax. New York City and Boston are among the destinations offered.
Winnipeg did not make the list… yet.
“We’ll continue to announce new routes over the next year,” a spokesperson for Porter Airlines wrote in an email. “At this time, that is all we can share regarding potential destinations.”
The company began by flying turboprop aircraft out of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport in 2006.
Economy seats grouped in twos rather than threes and alcohol served in glassware were among the offerings that helped to popularize Porter Airlines in Ontario, Gradek said.
“They’re leveraging the success that they had with the Billy Bishop (Airport) level of service and the quality of service,” he said. “They’ve taken it to the new jets.”
Porter Airlines announced plans to acquire 50 new planes — Embraer E195-E2s — by 2024. Many will fly out of Toronto Pearson International Airport.
The planes are coming in gradually. Supply chain issues continue to plague the industry, Gradek said.
“I think that Porter is managing its risk in terms of airplane deliveries. They’re being very cautious,” he said.
The airliner likely won’t make an announcement about Winnipeg until it has the planes needed for the route, he said. Porter could act as a bridge between Winnipeg and Toronto, and maybe Winnipeg and other markets, as early as next summer, he added.
Porter Airlines announced flights from Toronto to Ottawa and Montreal starting at $225 per round trip. It will offer free Wi-Fi, CEO Michael Deluce told The Canadian Press.
He said that for the past 20 years, many of Canada’s airlines have been taking away items otherwise previously offered to economy passengers, and now with the entrance of ultra-low-cost carriers, there has been a “race to the bottom.”
“They’re not doing anything to make economy or travel more enjoyable.”
Now, Porter plans to enter the segment of the market it believes has been neglected to offer an “elevated economy experience” throughout Canada.
“We’ve been having very close conversations with Porter,” noted Nick Hays, CEO of the Winnipeg Airports Authority.
The talks have been positive, he added.
“We place a really high importance on… growing the connectivity for the region. We’ll see what the future brings,” Hays said.
Traffic levels continue on the upswing at the Winnipeg airport, he noted. Around three million travellers will likely have trekked through the airport in 2022. Last year, the total was around 1.2 million.
The airport could see a return to pre-pandemic passenger levels by 2024; however, it will likely take several years beyond then for the airport to return to a pre-pandemic financial position, he said.
The WAA saw a $198 million revenue loss during the pandemic.
The number of routes out of Winnipeg has been growing. Low-cost airliner Lynx planted itself in the city in April. WestJet has expanded its services, including a Winnipeg to Los Angeles flight that began in October.
“It’s been exciting, frankly, to see many of these airlines launching and growing their operations,” Hays said, adding it’s helped draw travellers.
Chicago and Denver are among the direct routes Winnipeg lost during the pandemic and hasn’t yet recovered. The Winnipeg Airports Authority is working hard on getting U.S. flights, Hays said.
Porter’s expansion will bring the number of major national airlines to seven, Gradek noted.
He predicts airlines currently in the Winnipeg market will lower their fares to Toronto if Porter Airlines comes to the city.
“That will only be as good as long as the competitors have the money to support that fare level,” Gradek said. “The question is, at what price level can these carriers survive?”
A low-cost brand like Flair Airlines or Lynx Air could go bankrupt next year, given the industry’s competitiveness, he said.
“The Canadian market is thin,” Gradek, who’s covered the sector for 30 years, added. “There’s too many seats in the marketplace.”
Porter Airlines currently operates 29 aircraft, mainly in Eastern Canada and North Eastern U.S.
— With files from Canadian Press
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.
Updated on Friday, December 30, 2022 10:26 AM CST: Corrects to Denver from Minneapolis