An influx of new low-cost carriers (LCCs), like Swoop Airlines and Flair Airlines, have quickly spread their wings in the Canadian marketplace
Much of the new development activity – both internationally and domestically – in Canada’s route market is taking place at secondary airports, which continue to welcome new airlines to their rosters, but the big hubs are also growing strongly.
Many airports have expanded their networks domestically due to new market entrants. Now, with the growth of low-cost long-haul routes globally thanks to long-range efficient aircraft, those still lacking scheduled international connections are working hard to remedy that.
One airport looking to develop its network is Winnipeg Richardson International Airport and director of air service and product development, Scott Marohn, says the principle target is to add another European service.
Speaking at Airline Networking 2018 in London, he said the airport’s only link at that time was Westjet’s once-a-week seasonal London Gatwick Airport service that runs from June until the end of August.
“There is demand and Westjet has proven it with that one flight as since they brought it in two years ago we have doubled our traffic to London. I don’t know whether there is a year-round opportunity to London, but definitely there is an opportunity to expand the season,” he said.
“We are primed and ready to go for a connect point for somebody connecting through Frankfurt or Heathrow – those connections to be on points is a market opportunity for us.”
Marohn said Europe is the central focus as most of the airport’s traffic wants to go to England or Germany, and to a lesser extent Paris and Amsterdam, so the aim is to secure a route with a secondary carrier or LCC looking at flying to secondary markets that would consider Winnipeg as a stop-point.
But there is another central target: Iceland. Marohn said there is a big Icelandic community in the Manitoba region; until the late 2000s Iceland Express operated at Winnipeg and the airport is now “actively pursuing” Iceland airlines.
“Anyone that can connect beyond to northern Europe countries is a good jump-off point for us and that is the type of opportunity we are looking for at the moment. Iceland is a direct point for us as we fly over anyway to get here, so it would make sense,” he said.
Domestically, the airport this year, like other secondary airports has welcomed Westjet low-cost subsidiary Swoop, which started flying from Winnipeg to Hamilton in June and then began a route to Abbotsford on 17 August.
The carrier only started operations in June. It is operating low-fare flights from Winnipeg, Hamilton, Edmonton, Abbotsford and Halifax, and international expansion to the US is on the horizon.
Swoop is the first Canadian ultra-LCC to enter the US market and has outlined plans to fly its Boeing 737-800 fleet from 11 October this year until 27 April 2019 to southerly destinations.
The airline flies from Edmonton to Las Vegas and Mesa, from Hamilton to Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa Bay, and from Abbotsford to Las Vegas. It sees strong demand for low-cost flights to the US because as many as 5 million Canadians reportedly drive across the border due to high air fares.
Back at Winnipeg, in December Flair Air will be starting direct service to three Florida destinations: Orlando, St Pete-Clearwater (Tampa Bay) and Miami, as well as Las Vegas and Phoenix-Mesa.
Halifax Stanfield International Airport is another Canadian gateway looking to grow its international network. Also speaking at Airline Networking in London, director of air service development Jo-Anne McLean said the main focus is routes to Europe, and the aim is to attract airlines using efficient aircraft like the Boeing 737 MAX, as the airport is relatively close to the Continent.
The airport’s European routes now include Condor to Frankfurt, Air Canada to London Heathrow, Icelandair to Keflavik (Iceland), and Westjet to Paris CDG, London Gatwick and Glasgow, but McLean sees more opportunities. “There are a number of destinations in Europe which make sense from Halifax – like Amsterdam, and Dublin which we used to have once a week with ASL,” she said.
US route growth is also being targeted and the emphasis there is on adding additional frequencies to destinations already operated by Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Air Canada and Westjet.
“The US is also a big focus as we have a pre-clearance facility and we are really working on growing the US destinations,” McLean said. “Our pre-clearance is a nice offer outside of the bigger hubs as people can connect through us a lot quicker.”
LCCs are also boosting growth at the Nova Scotian airport, which has welcomed Swoop, joining Air Canada Rouge and Flair Airlines. Its network will get another boost when new Vancouver-based ultra-LCC Canada Jetlines starts operations and begins service in 2019.
The positive impact that LCCs are having on the route network is clear, but maintaining high enough load factors on all these links to secondary airports may prove challenging.
Indeed, one carrier has already decided to switch operations. In August, LCC Flair Airlines announced it was leaving Hamilton International Airport after two years on 27 October and moving services to Toronto Pearson International Airport. Routes to Winnipeg and Edmonton will be transferred while seasonal flights between Halifax and Toronto are set to start next Spring.
Flair made the move as it believes the market size of the Hamilton area and increased competition from Swoop made Toronto a better option. The switch came just as the carrier was preparing to unveil its first flights to the US from December, when it will start serving six American destinations.
Canada’s busiest airports, Toronto Pearson and Vancouver, are expanding their networks to meet demand and traffic there is increasing strongly, although these gateways are mainly growing through increased aircraft load factor, more frequencies on existing routes, larger aircraft and the addition of new links by existing carriers.
The biggest airport in terms of passenger traffic is Toronto Pearson. It has seen some notable route activity this year; for instance, in August Saudi Airlines dropped a three-time weekly service from Riyadh over a diplomatic spat.
This came a week after Emirates introduced two additional Airbus A380 flights to its Toronto service. From 18 August it started flying the link five times a week to meet strong demand.
From 28 October 2018, Etihad Airways was also set to increase its frequency from Abu Dhabi to Toronto, from three to five weekly services operating a Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.
Canada’s route network, it seems, is only set for further growth both domestically and internationally in future due to the influx of LCCs, strong demand for low fares , the growing choice of airports, its attractiveness as a destination and increasing popularity as a transit point to the US.