The head of Porter Airlines made a pitch Thursday morning asking Ottawa’s business community to support the carrier’s expansion into additional markets with new planes, promising that Ottawa passengers would see a decrease in fares – even if they fly on a competing airline.
If Porter goes ahead with plans to expand – which would include servicing cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami – the base fare of commercial flights from other carriers could decrease by as much as 60 per cent, Porter’s CEO Robert Deluce said.
That’s the percentage that prices decreased when Porter first entered the scene in 2006 with flights to close-range locations in eastern Canada and the United States. When passengers have more options, prices drop to remain competitive and more people choose to fly.
“This will benefit you whether you decide to fly Porter or not,” Mr. Deluce said.
In an interview after his speech, Mr. Deluce said it “has yet to be determined” whether Ottawa would see any new direct flights as a result of the expansion, or if local passengers would have to connect through Toronto to reach the new destinations.
“There are some other opportunities for us to develop service from Ottawa,” he said.
However, Porter has actually been trimming the frequency of its flights between Toronto and the nation’s capital, according to the Ottawa International Airport Authority.
In its most recent annual report, the airport said both Air Canada and Porter “reduced excess capacity” between the two cities in 2012.
The report doesn’t provide detailed figures, but said Porter’s adjustment in frequency was minor and allowed it “to provide service to other destinations.”
Overall, “Porter’s 2012 domestic volumes for Ottawa continued to increase, augmenting the strong double-digit growth that has occurred each year since Porter started operations in 2006.”
A few things have to fall into place before Porter’s expansion plan can take place.
Mr. Deluce outlined the airline’s wish list, which includes seeking approval from various authorities for an extension of the runway at Billy Bishop Airport on Toronto Island by 168 metres into the water on each end.
Porter is also trying to win an exemption for its new line of Bombardier jets, called CS100 whisper jets, for which it has placed a conditional order.
Although jet planes are currently not permitted to fly into downtown because of noise concerns, Mr. Deluce argues that the whisper jet is the quietest commercial jet on the market and will not disturb urban residents.
If approval for these changes goes ahead – which would come from the City of Toronto and the federal government – Porter will give the green light for a purchase order from Bombardier worth up to $2.3 billion for 12 jets, with the option to add 18 more in the future, as well as six additional Q400 aircraft which the carrier currently flies.
If all goes according to plan, Mr. Deluce said the first shipment of jets will arrive in early 2016, and that the expansion will create about 1,000 jobs to bring the company’s total employee head count to more than 2,400.
Porter has raised more than $159 million in equity from various partners since 2006, and is now the country’s third largest carrier. The carrier’s 26 Bombardier aircraft currently fly to 19 locations and have transported a total of eight million passengers so far – 2.5 million of them in 2012 alone.
Mr. Deluce addressed a crowd of Ottawa’s business community members at the Mayor's Breakfast, an event hosted by OBJ and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce at City Hall.
His remarks were punctuated by protesters chanting, blowing whistles and slamming their fists against the glass walls surrounding the council chamber.
About 20 individuals were protesting Porter’s lawsuit against its employees’ union for remarks made on Twitter, which workers claim is a way of stifling the union and preventing it from lobbying for better wages for 22 employees currently on strike.
The striking employees refuel planes that Porter flies, and walked off the job in January.
—With a report by Peter Kovessy