Canada’s newest airline plans to begin flying in the summer, joining a resurgent industry hoping to tap pent-up demand for travel more than two years into the pandemic.
Canada Jetlines’ executives say the carrier will fly to Florida and the Caribbean from Toronto with one Airbus, and will have a fleet of three by December.
Eddy Doyle, chief executive officer of Canada Jetlines and a former pilot with Air Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces, said the carrier will focus on selling airfares to resort properties with its vacations division, in addition to catering to the domestic families and friends market.
The carrier recently took delivery of its first plane, a 12-year-old Airbus A320 that seats 174. The aircraft, which flew for Pegasus Airlines of Turkey, is being stored in Kitchener, Ont., before it moves to its new base in Toronto. Publicly traded Canada Jetlines was spun off last year by Miami-based holiday carrier Global Crossing Airlines Group Inc., which retained a 17-per-cent stake. The airline is awaiting approval from the federal government.
Canada Jetlines enters an industry in turmoil, slowly emerging from the wreckage caused by the onset of COVID-19 in March, 2020. Demand for air travel collapsed as people stayed home to avoid becoming sick. Governments around the world closed borders and imposed quarantines and, later, vaccination requirements on those who did travel.
The Canadian government will drop testing rules for vaccinated passengers in April, a move airlines say is boosting seat sales.
However, the domestic industry is much changed by the pandemic. Struggling Sunwing Airlines has agreed to be bought by WestJet Airlines, and Transat AT Inc. has been forced to carry on alone, after Air Canada dropped its takeover bid.
Most carriers, with the exception of WestJet, borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers to stay afloat.
Canada Jetlines delayed its plan to begin flying this month as the Omicron variant took hold and reduced demand in the early part of the winter. “We would have taken that airplane at risk and we would have lost our shirts,” said Duncan Bureau, chief commercial officer. “It was the right decision to wait.”
“We’re very optimistic,” Mr. Bureau said. “We think travel starting this summer will be one of the highest travel periods in recent history. We’ve got people sitting at home who haven’t visited family and friends [for a long time]. That’s the traffic we’re going after.”
This is not the first time Canada Jetlines has set a launch date. In 2018 and 2019, Canada Jetlines cancelled plans to begin flying amid troubles securing financing and plane leases.
This time is different, Mr. Doyle said, pointing to a new board of directors, executives and owners. “It’s a fresh start,” he said.
The airline no longer refers to itself as a low-cost carrier, although it says its tiny size and plan to run each plane as much as possible means its costs will remain low. “We’re starting with a clean balance sheet,” Mr. Doyle added.
John Gradek, who teaches aviation leadership at McGill University, said Canada Jetlines’ strategy to serve as the airfare arm of a holiday tour operator means it is stepping – in a small way – into the space partly left by Air Transat. The Montreal-based leisure carrier is focusing less on its tour business to serve more domestic destinations. It is a market controlled by the much larger WestJet/Sunwing combination, should that takeover be approved, he said.
“I don’t think WestJet should be worried. They’re not looking to take a significant share of the market,” Mr. Gradek said.
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