The CEO of Porter Airlines Inc. came out swinging against Air Canada on Thursday, expressing bafflement about the airline’s opposition to jets at Toronto’s downtown airport and accusing it of trying to defeat Porter’s expansion plans. In a luncheon speech to the Economic Club of Canada, Robert Deluce criticized Air Canada for flip-flopping on the issue of whether jets should be allowed to fly out of Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport, something Porter hopes to see happen by 2017.
“The only consistent theme seems to be one of doing what is best for Air Canada, not Toronto and certainly not passengers,” Deluce told the Toronto audience.
In early April, Air Canada issued a statement saying it opposed jets at Billy Bishop and instead wanted to see the airport’s existing turboprop operations expanded.
“Air Canada’s position on this matter is crystal clear,” Derek Vanstone, Air Canada’s vice-president for corporate strategy, government and industry affairs, said in an April 2 statement.
“We do not support jets at Billy Bishop — we prefer to see a growing downtown airport focused on short-haul passengers using modern turboprop aircraft.
Deluce pointed out that his counterpart at Air Canada, Calin Rovinescu, had, however, previously expressed the exact opposite intention.
“We would absolutely, categorically expect to fly our jets there,” Rovinescu said in a 2013 interview with the Toronto Star.
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline has been “consistent in its position that we do not view jets as appropriate for the Toronto Island airport.”
“However, were jets to be allowed, then we would expect to operate them there as well.”
The airline also reiterated in the April 2 statement that it is considering pulling out of Billy Bishop altogether because of the cost of operating there. Fitzpatrick added that Air Canada’s primary concern is the fact that Porter has 85 per cent of the landing slots at the airport and “has steadfastly resisted giving Air Canada or any other airline greater access.”
“It’s always been a bit hard for me to tell what Air Canada actually does want at Billy Bishop Airport,” Deluce said.
“For about 16 years [from 1990 to 2006], Air Canada had an effective monopoly at the airport. During that time, they chose to consolidate flights at Pearson.”
Stringent noise restrictions limit the types of planes that can fly out of Billy Bishop, which is located on Toronto Islands adjacent to the city’s densely populated waterfront. Porter, which currently uses Bombardier Inc.’s Q400 turboprops, hopes to prove that the new CSeries jetliner is quiet enough to meet those restrictions.
If Porter’s plan is approved by city council, the longer-range aircraft would allow Porter to start offering flights to new destinations, like Vancouver, Calgary, Florida and the Caribbean. Deluce said he believes Air Canada is only opposed to the idea of jets at Billy Bishop because it doesn’t want the added competition on longer-haul routes
We do not support jets at Billy Bishop — we prefer to see a growing downtown airport focused on short-haul passengers using modern turboprop aircraft
“I would suggest to you that they do not want additional competition on the routes we propose because past performance shows that any market Porter enters results in fares being lowered by up to 60 per cent,” Deluce said.
He pointed to Toronto-Timmins, Ont. as an example, saying the typical fare was $316 before Porter arrived and $109 after. (On Thursday, the Porter fare for a flight from Toronto to Timmins on May 28 was $144 while the cheapest Air Canada Tango fare was $150.)
“In terms of the oscillating position that we’ve witnessed with [Air Canada], it is sometimes amusing,” Deluce told reporters after his speech. “It does say to us that they definitely don’t want us to be in their marketplace.”