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Kelowna-based Flair Airlines will operate the NewLeaf flights and supply crew.

NewLeaf Travel Co. Inc. launched on Monday, seeking to entice consumers with discount airfares while plotting a course for survival in a business known for cutthroat competition whenever a new entrant appears.

NewLeaf has a deal with Flair Airlines Ltd. of Kelowna, B.C., to have Flair operate Boeing 737s. In March, the Canadian Transportation Agency cleared the way for NewLeaf to sell tickets as long as it doesn't promote itself as an "ultralow-cost carrier," since NewLeaf doesn't have a licence to be an airline.

Calling itself a reseller of tickets, Winnipeg-based NewLeaf is striving to lure Canadian travellers, especially those flying on underserved routes.

How the upstart performs in the months ahead will be closely watched by aviation experts. Canada's airline industry is littered with carriers that went out of business for a variety reasons, notably the challenges of operating in a sprawling country in which most of the population is clustered along areas within easy driving distance of the Canada-U.S. border.

NewLeaf dropped Fort St. John, B.C., as one of its planned destinations, but 11 cities remain on the travel company's route map. Four airports are in British Columbia (Victoria, Abbotsford, Kamloops and Kelowna), while the other destinations are Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Halifax and Moncton. NewLeaf expects to switch to some U.S. sun destinations as part of its fall schedule.

The company said last week that a plane that will depart Hamilton for Moncton on Friday became the first flight that sold out. The inaugural Hamilton-to-Winnipeg flight on Monday also ended up being effectively sold out, NewLeaf chief executive officer Jim Young said in an interview from Winnipeg.

"We're happy after a lot of long and hard work. We've finally been able to bring low fares to Canadians and it looks like it's having a great effect," Mr. Young said.

NewLeaf's first departure from Western Canada was on the Kelowna-to-Winnipeg route on Monday.

Two other companies are also hoping to take flight with discount fares: Vancouver-based Canada Jetlines Ltd. and Calgary-based Enerjet.

Industry observers say any new entrant must be prepared for aggressive responses such as reduced fares and competing flights from Canada's two largest carriers, Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd.

While NewLeaf originally sought to take flight in February, it was forced to delay its launch, pending a decision from the CTA. The federal regulator decided in March to allow NewLeaf to operate as a reseller of flights and change its marketing to avoid references to the company doing the flying. The travel firm changed the name of its website to gonewleaf.ca from flynewleaf.ca.

There are concerns, however, about whether the company has staying power, said air-passenger-rights advocate Gabor Lukacs. He filed a motion last week in the Federal Court of Appeal in a bid to halt NewLeaf's launch unless it provides $3.74-million as a cash reserve to provide compensation under a scenario in which travellers are stranded for one week.

While the court didn't grant the injunction sought by Mr. Lukacs, he said his efforts have been fruitful in highlighting shortcomings – for instance, NewLeaf has yet to obtain licences that are required in British Columbia and Ontario.

The court agreed in June to hear Mr. Lukacs's legal challenge of the CTA's decision to allow NewLeaf to be a reseller of flights. Mr. Lukacs said he and other critics have a litany of concerns. In a 410-page document filed in court, he includes complaints from consultants who are upset because NewLeaf has yet to pay an invoice for more than $55,000 in fees.

Mr. Young said NewLeaf is working with the Travel Industry Council of Ontario and Consumer Protection BC to ensure proper authorization for the new company's operations. Privately owned NewLeaf is in good financial shape, he said. "We are covered. We're well funded."

Marvin Ryder, a professor at McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business in Hamilton, said consumers will be pleased with low base fares, but the no-frills model means extra fees for everything from carry-on bags to advance seat selection. "The game plan is to offer you tremendous value. You get a seat and seat belt, but if you want an in-flight beverage, you will pay for that," he said.

Prof. Ryder said passengers will be watching to see whether NewLeaf is able to quickly address problems within its control.

The Hamilton-to-Winnipeg flight departed late on Monday because of precautions related to thunderstorms, Mr. Young said. The flight landed 18 minutes behind schedule, according to Winnipeg international airport.

Prof. Ryder said short delays will be understandable because airline safety and reliability are crucial, but if flights are routinely an hour late for no good reason, that will spell trouble. "NewLeaf has to be a success from the beginning. They can't say, 'Don't worry. We'll get better over time.' They need to get it right to overcome skepticism," he said.

 

WestJet to add new flights

WestJet Airlines Ltd. has announced it will add dozens of new flights to its domestic and international networks as part of its 2016-17 winter schedule.

Scheduled to start in late October, highlights from the airline's new flight roster include additional domestic routes from Toronto to Vancouver, Ottawa and Moncton.

New international destinations departing from Toronto include Myrtle Beach, S.C., Kingston, Jamaica, as well as cities in Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Aruba and St. Martin.

Out west, the company will add 41 new weekly domestic and international flights from Vancouver to Kelowna, B.C., and Prince George, Toronto, Los Angeles, Honolulu and the Mexican cities of Cancun and Cabo San Lucas.

There will also be a new non-stop weekly service between Regina and Orlando.

Service from Halifax will increase with seven additional weekly flights to Sydney, N.S.

- The Canadian Press