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Jazz eyes Toronto airport return Add to ...

TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

Jazz Air Income Fund chief executive officer Joseph Randell is vowing to break Porter Airlines Inc.'s monopoly on commercial flights at Toronto City Centre Airport.

Jazz suspended its service at the island airport near downtown Toronto in March, 2006, saying it had been evicted by a firm affiliated with Porter CEO Robert Deluce.

But an exclusivity arrangement is set to expire next spring between Porter and the Toronto Port Authority, which runs the island airport. As early as next April, Jazz intends to deploy turboprops to restore regional flights in co-operation with Air Canada, which charters Jazz planes under the Air Canada Jazz brand.

Although a legal dispute between Halifax-based Jazz and Toronto-based Porter remains mired in the courts, Jazz is optimistic about securing space at Toronto City Centre Airport.

"We operated at the island airport for 18 years before we were evicted," Mr. Randell said yesterday during a Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce investment webcast. "We're looking forward to getting back in there."

Air Canada operates its own flights out of Toronto's Pearson International Airport, but the country's largest carrier wants to strengthen its presence in the Eastern Triangle of Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, including expanding routes through its Jazz affiliate.

Mr. Randell said the island airport shouldn't shut out Jazz permanently. "We believe that any public facility in Canada should have free and open access, and not be commercially regulated by the provider of the infrastructure," he said. "Porter certainly has taken advantage of its relationship that it's had with the Port Authority, and grown its business."

Mr. Deluce expressed confidence that privately owned Porter will survive whatever "substantial distractions" may arise. Porter expects to add new routes, including Philadelphia, Washington and a second destination in the New York region. The carrier has 15 Bombardier Q400 turboprops in its fleet and is slated to receive another five aircraft by next spring. New plane orders are "quite possible" as Porter continues its growth strategy, Mr. Deluce said.

He played down speculation about an initial public offering, saying, "We don't see it as necessarily something that we want to do in the short term."

On potential suitors, Mr. Deluce dismissed suggestions of Porter being sold to WestJet Airlines Ltd. "I can tell you that a number of their key executives have bought tickets on Porter and have flown more recently, presumably for the purposes of sampling the Porter service," he said. "We'd be happy for them to buy as many tickets as possible, and continue to do as much tire kicking as they want to do."

Porter, which has 750 employees, has been approached by more than a dozen carriers to form possible partnerships, including interlining and code-sharing pacts. "As time develops, there will be some carriers that will want to connect with us," Mr. Deluce said.

JAZZ AIR (JAZ.UN-T)

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