NewLeaf Airlines is a welcome, low-cost competitor to the Winnipeg market. The company is promoting one-way fares for as low as $89, but in exchange passengers will face charges for carry-on bags, seat selection, drinks, and printed boarding passes.
The company will initially fly two 156-seat Boeing 737 aircraft leased from Kelowna’s Flair Airlines. It aims to have a fleet of 15 planes including larger models of the popular aircraft in three years if its plans to expand across Canada and into the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean are successful.
CEO Jim Young tells 680 CJOB initial service will launch Feb. 12 offering non-stop flights from Winnipeg to Hamilton, Abbotsford and Kelowna.
There’s enough of a secondary market to make it work, Young says.
Winnipeg Airports Authority President and CEO Barry Rempel says we have a history of aviation entrepreneurship that has historically served us well.
“It seems that those days may be returning and we are happy to have that focus back on our community,” Rempel adds.
I hope NewLeaf has deep financial roots.
The company is attempting to fly against a headwind of government policy that still favours the two large carriers, Air Canada and West Jet.
That could change in the months ahead.
The Trudeau government is expected to release a review of the Canadian Transportation system next month. David Emerson, a former Harper government Industry Minister and President and CEO of Vancouver International Airport Authority, spent the past 18-months steering a review into all aspects of transportation.
He knows aviation.
What NewLeaf and other potential competitors to Air Canada and West Jet need are partners with deep pockets. Foreign ownership of Canadian carriers is limited to 25 percent. Canada is one of the few nations left to increase the amount to 49 percent. There were several submissions to the Emerson panel recommending such liberalization.
Winnipeg’s Richardson International made a compelling case for change.
You can fly direct from Winnipeg to only a handful of Canadian and international destinations. Choice is limited. To get most places, you need to connect.
Air Canada and West Jet focus on hubs in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal.
“Over the past decade seat capacity at YWG has gradually been reduced,” the Winnipeg Airports Authority wrote in its submission. Demand has been steady but supply of seats out of Winnipeg to these hubs has been squeezed. The worst is Toronto. The result: “seats are not only unavailable at a reasonable price, but far too often they are unavailable at any price.”
It has driven some to drive to North Dakota. While the Canadian dollar has shifted in the past few years, the WAA estimated 280,000 passengers drove to Grand Forks, Fargo or even Minot in 2012 to fly to another destination.
I have flown out of Grand Forks and it was easy and even with the dollar it was cost competitive. Still. I would rather fly from Winnipeg.
NewLeaf has given me new hope.