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To lure passengers back on to planes, Porter is offering fully refundable fares for any flight booked before July 20 for travel through to Dec. 15.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Porter Aviation Holdings Inc. expects Canadians to slowly embrace air travel this fall, announcing plans on Monday to roll out 50 per cent of its prepandemic schedule and bring back 500 employees – about half its laid-off staff – as the airline resumes flights on Sept. 8.

After an 18-month shutdown, Porter Airlines chief executive officer Michael Deluce said the carrier looks forward to welcoming passengers back to turboprop planes with a fresh coat of paint and refitted interiors. “We will offer a brand new feel on our aircraft,” Mr. Deluce said. “It’s been a long time, and our employees are extremely excited at the prospect of restarting our service.”

Porter will initially fly between eight cities in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. Prior to the pandemic, the airline served 14 Canadian destinations. The airline plans to restart flights from Toronto’s downtown airport to four U.S. cities – Boston, Chicago, New York and Washington – on Sept. 17.

To lure passengers back on to planes, Porter is offering fully refundable fares for any flight booked before July 20 for travel through to Dec. 15. The airline also rolled out a “Healthy Flights” program, with enhanced sanitation measures on aircraft and in terminals.

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In the fall, Mr. Deluce said Porter expects to announce it is resuming service to additional destinations, including seasonal flights to getaways such as Mont-Tremblant, Que., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Stephenville, N.L. As additional flights are added to the schedule, Porter will bring back more employees, he said. The company currently has 200 employees on the job, including the vast majority of its maintenance teams.

Since shutting down in March, 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Porter has postponed resumption of its flights several times. The carrier had most recently planned to restart operations on July 20.

Mr. Deluce said the airline decided on a September restart in consultation with health officials and federal transportation regulators. He said the decision reflects expectations by the airline and governments that COVID-19 cases will continue to decline and travel restrictions will ease.

Last week, Porter received $270.5-million in financial support from the federal government, including a $20.5-million loan with a low interest rate meant for paying refunds on passenger tickets. Rivals such as Air Canada and Transat A.T. Inc. have also negotiated support packages from Ottawa.

Tourist travel is expected to pick up in coming months as pandemic restrictions ease. However, analysts say business travellers, a significant portion of Porter’s passengers and the most profitable segment of the market, are expected to be slower to return to airlines. In a recent report, Bank of Nova Scotia airline analyst Konark Gupta said, “Even if travel restrictions begin to ease later this year, we don’t expect full recovery in earnings or cash flows at least until 2023-2024.”

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