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The Embraer E195-E2 before its inaugural flight from Pearson Airport during a Porter airlines flight preview in Toronto, on Jan. 27.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Porter Airlines’ aggressive expansion with new routes and larger passenger jets is off to a bumpy start, as the Toronto-based airline made extensive cuts to its March schedule.

Porter cancelled 22 per cent of its flights departing Toronto Pearson International Airport, almost 20 per cent of its schedule at Vancouver International Airport, and 17 per cent at Calgary International Airport, according to Cirium, an aviation data company.

Porter launched a major expansion in February, taking aim at Canada’s largest airlines with a full slate of flights to several of the country’s major centres. Porter began flying longer-range 132-seat Embraer E195 jets in February to Vancouver, Calgary and other major cities for the first time, marking a shift for the privately owned airline as it also began flying from Toronto Pearson.

The moves put Porter in direct competition for passengers with Air Canada and WestJet Airlines along with the discount carriers. Previously, Porter’s only Toronto hub was the tiny Billy Bishop City Centre Airport. The island airport adjacent to downtown Toronto does not allow jets and large aircraft.

Porter announced it would fly its new planes from Toronto to Vancouver daily and then three times a day by March 24, and to Calgary twice daily, in addition to other new city pairs.

According to data provided by Cirium, Porter’s March cancellations included 56 of its planned 253 flights leaving Toronto Pearson; eight of the 48 scheduled flights departing Calgary; and nine of the 47 flights leaving Vancouver. (Cirium was unable to provide complete data on the rest of Porter’s network.)

Brad Cicero, a spokesman for Porter, said the airline made some “pro-active” cancellations to allow time to prepare the planes for duty, and train crew members.

“Entering new aircraft into service once received from the manufacturer is a complex process across many teams and the timeline for this work has been adjusted,” he said. “It’s various things that aren’t done at the factory: certain configurations, customization, software, hardware, etc., that are airline specific, plus some practical training as new team members are starting.”

Porter has eight Embraer jets with firm orders for another 42, and 29 78-seat De Havilland Dash 8 propeller planes.

Porter marketed its new fleet as a premium economy experience, priced lower than Air Canada and WestJet, but above the country’s lowest-cost airlines.

“They’ve kind of staked out the middle,” said John Gradek, who teaches aviation leadership at McGill University. But Mr. Gradek doubted Porter’s statement that it needs time to ready the new planes, noting it has had them for several months, and will have 15 by June. “They’ve cut back their ambitions,” Mr. Gradek said.

Mr. Cicero said Porter’s new markets are selling “very well.”

“I’d emphasize that since realigning the schedule that flights are operating largely as expected, outside of weather and other day-to-day matters,” Mr. Cicero said. “The current schedule is something that we are confident with and the pro-active changes were intended to address this. Flights will continue building from this point.”

Under Transport Canada rules, passengers on small airlines whose flights are cancelled for reasons within an airline’s control – including low demand for seats – must be rebooked on the next available flight. This includes another airline with which the original carrier has a commercial arrangement. Passengers might be eligible for compensation if a flight is cancelled within two weeks of departure, the Canadian Transportation Agency says.

Airlines typically make schedule reductions each week, and generally fairly close to the flying date. For July and August, Porter has posted a schedule that is 26-per-cent larger than the same period in 2022, driven by its new fleet and routes. The world’s airlines are offering a 16-per-cent increase in the number of seats this summer, compared with the same period in 2022, according to British consultancy OAG.

The rebound in travel in 2022 was hampered by shortages of employees at airlines, airports and the government agencies that provide security screening. The issues have not gone away, according to OAG, and risk affecting global airlines in the summer of 2023.