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Porter eyes N.B., Philadelphia as next stops Add to ...

Philadelphia and New Brunswick have made Porter Airlines Inc.'s shortlist of new destinations for 2011, when the regional carrier will add four more planes as it gears up for competition with Air Canada at Toronto's island airport.

Porter, a four-year-old airline based at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, suffered a setback last summer when the U.S. State Department rejected an application for customs officers to pre-clear passengers.

But the decision won't affect Porter's plans to add Philadelphia International Airport to its network because the Pennsylvania terminal doesn't require pre-screening in Canada, Porter chief executive officer Robert Deluce said in an interview Monday.

While no decision has been finalized yet, Toronto-based Porter is aiming to add at least two new cities to its flying roster in 2011 - one in the United States and one in Canada.

Porter has 20 Bombardier Q400 turboprops in its fleet, with four more to be delivered next April and May.

Other U.S. options for expansion include Washington Dulles International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, as well as Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minneapolis and Atlanta.

But Washington's Reagan National Airport and New York-area airports such as LaGuardia and Westchester - which require U.S. customs pre-clearance facilities at Billy Bishop - likely won't be added to Porter's schedule until 2012 at the earliest, subject to approval from U.S. authorities.

In New Brunswick, privately owned Porter is examining the possibility of flying to Saint John and Fredericton, hoping to capitalize on its growth on the East Coast. "Atlantic Canada has been very strong for us. We certainly like Halifax, St. John's and Moncton," Mr. Deluce said, referring to Porter's service to those three cities. Other domestic candidates for joining Porter's network include three Ontario cities - Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins.

In Central Canada, Mr. Deluce said Porter is ramping up to compete against Air Canada at Billy Bishop, located on an island near Toronto's downtown core. Porter has enjoyed a monopoly on commercial flights at Billy Bishop since launching in October, 2006, but Air Canada has hired Sky Regional Airlines Inc. to fly Q400s to do battle against Porter in its own backyard, starting in February with the Toronto-Montreal route.

On Monday, Porter announced that its load factor, or the proportion of seats filled by paying customers, rose to 54 per cent in November from 49.4 per cent in the same month in 2009. Porter touts its short-haul routes on fuel-efficient turboprops as distinguishing factors from rivals, which have higher loads.

Air Canada's November load factor climbed to 74.8 per cent from 74.7 per cent, while WestJet Airlines Ltd.'s loads increased to 77.7 per cent from 75.9 per cent.

Avoiding airfare wars, Porter emphasizes how residents in Toronto's core can save money on taxi rides, compared with flying out of Pearson International Airport. Porter expects to handle 1.4 million passengers at Billy Bishop this year, up about 55 per cent from last year.

On Porter's service between Toronto and Myrtle Beach, S.C., Mr. Deluce said he is counting on Billy Bishop's convenient location to provide a competitive edge over cheaper fares promoted by aggressive discounters at Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Direct Air currently offers Niagara Falls-Myrtle Beach service, while Spirit Airlines will launch the route in May.

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