Porter Airlines has been a been a big hit in Timmins and beyond, but it remains to be seen if the company will be adding more destinations.
President and CEO Robert Deluce was in Timmins on Thursday to speak about the regional airline's ten-year milestone, as well as its five-year anniversary flying out of the Victor M. Power Airport, at an event hosted by the Timmins Chamber of Commerce.
"Its really been an exciting ten years, and of course coming to Timmins was a major step for us. I obviously lived here for some 14, 15 years and being able to bring the Porter experience back into Timmins, as we had been able to do in certain other Northern Ontario was really important to us, and we're glad we're here," said Deluce, who was born in nearby Chapleau.
Local residents are also glad, as they have seen a significant drop in airfares to Toronto than they previously saw before 2011.
In spite of his hometown connections to the area, Deluce said Timmins was always in the company's business plan, despite it being a 'thinner market' with less of a population base less than many other cities.
"So it was important for us to wait, prior to introducing service to Timmins, until we had a number of connecting destinations beyond Toronto. Because not everyone is just going to Toronto. Some of our customers are flying to destinations like Ottawa, Montreal, New York, Chicago, Boston, and the more connecting destinations we have, the better it is in terms of us being able to access a wider range of passengers," he said.
During his presentation, he pointed out a map showing 'new potential routes'. It included flights to Western Canadian cities Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg, as well as major American markets such as Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, and Las Vegas.
"Well to be very candid, those plans are a bit on hold at the moment. But I don't think its a question of 'if', its a question of 'when'. The current government has indicated that they don't currently support those plans. But if, and when, they potentially change their view with respect to allowing jets to operate from that airport, and us to go to some of those longer range destinations. Obviously, we'll be ready, willing, and able to jump back in there and bring that about," Deluce told reporters after the presentation.
In November of 2015, the federal Liberal government rejected a proposal to expand Billy Bishop Airport in Downtown Toronto. In order to accommodate jet aircraft the runway would need to be extended by approximately half a kilometre. There has been plenty of vocal opposition, particularly by downtown residents, citing noise pollution and adverse effects on harbour traffic.
"The Q400 aircraft we have is a state-of-the-art, exceptionally good aircraft for short haul regional. But to do some of the destinations that passengers have asked us to be able to fly to, including Vancouver, Calgary, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vegas, and Miami, and places like that, then we do need an aircraft that's better suited for longer range flying. The CS100 'whisper jet' that Bombardier have brought into service in the past year, is really an ideal aircraft and a real game changer. Its made to measure for an urban airport like Billy Bishop, and it would be equally good for a place like Timmins."
The only way that can happen is with an amendment to a tripartite agreement between the federal government, the City of Toronto, and PortsToronto. The agreement determines what kind of aircraft can be flown out of the island airport.
One area that has made major strides for Porter customers is the construction and opening of an underwater tunnel connecting the airport with mainland Toronto. The tunnel opened on July 30, 2015 and all but eliminated the need for most people to wait for a ferry boat to get to the terminal.
"The first plan was a bridge, and we almost got there. There was a contract in place, and steel on site. But the Mayor that was elected at that particular time in 2003 (David Miller) chose to cancel the contract. So we had to change gears and we introduced some modern ferries and that has served us very well. Those ferries continue today even with the pedestrian tunnel in place," he said.
"It makes a better overall, more reliable, and more predictable experience" said Deluce. "You can count on being able to get there, get across, and get on no matter which way you're going, and that's definitely helping in terms of converting passengers over to that airport."
Deluce said he will continue to push for the expansion, but is focused on many other aspects of improving the company in the meantime. He believes that the expansion and new routes would have a very positive effect for Timmins area travellers.
"Certainly the biggest thing would be that passengers coming out of this area would have an option, an alternative, in terms of how they might get to some of these other longer range destinations. We all know that when you have choice, it usually means that you've probably got a more competitive offering," said Deluce.
"It's still growing. It's not mature yet. I think there's still room to grow, and definitely connections beyond Toronto with the new 'whisper jets', on the assumption that some point in time we're given the appropriate approvals, that will help a place like Timmins immensely."