Handful of flights considered a test

Originally published on the Winnipeg Free Press by Geoff Kirbyson.

A porter Airlines plane at Billy Bishop Airport on Toronto Island (CP PHOTO ARCHIVES/ Toronto Star/ Tannis Toohey)

A Toronto-based airline is preparing to dip its landing gear in the Winnipeg market.

Porter Airlines, which operates a fleet of mid-sized planes out of Billy Bishop Airport on Toronto Island, is flying a pair of round trips to southern Ontario to bookend the Liberal Party of Canada’s convention in Winnipeg next month.

There will be one round trip between Winnipeg and Toronto and Winnipeg and Ottawa on May 26 and two inbound flights from Toronto, with one outbound flight to each of Toronto and Ottawa, on May 29.

Porter spokesman Brad Cicero said the company’s first-ever flights into Winnipeg are a one-off for now, but they’ll also serve as a test to gauge possible service in the future.

“We’ve been looking at Winnipeg for a while. We don’t have a short-term plan to add it to our network on a daily basis, but it will give us a good opportunity to see the response,” he said.

“We’ll look at some operational factors going in and out of (Richardson) airport, which is good to understand when you’re evaluating routes for the longer-term plan.”

Porter’s fleet is made up of 26 Bombardier Q400s, which seat 74 passengers, but it won’t fill them quite to capacity on any of the Winnipeg-related legs to manage the fuel requirements for the trips.

Tickets are available to the public on Porter’s website (and not just for Liberal delegates). A round-trip to Toronto will set you back $355. Passengers can take one carry-on bag for free, but checked luggage will set them back at least $27. Other perks, such as early seat selection, also come à la carte. Passengers receive complimentary in-flight service, including beer, wine and snacks, as well as free airport lounge access in Toronto and Ottawa.

Barry Rempel, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Airports Authority, said there’s no doubt Winnipeg can support more flights to southern Ontario because the WAA saw passenger growth of three per cent both last year and during the first quarter of 2016.

“Our view of Winnipeg is we’re probably a little more constrained in terms of capacity than a lot of other Canadian markets,” he said.

“If we show (Porter) our willingness to work with them, they’re going to be far more likely to view us favourably when the next opportunity comes for them to add capacity.”

The number of total seats available out of Winnipeg is down from a year ago, and while carriers are using larger aircraft, the number of landings was down seven per cent in January, Rempel said.

Porter, which has been in business for 10 years, offers regular flights to Montreal, Ottawa, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins and Windsor.

The Liberals’ biennial convention will be held May 26 to May 28 at the RBC Convention Centre.