Business travel

Porter ready for take off as business travel lags behind crowded skies

After an 18-month hiatus, Porter Airlines is expected to resume flight next week, but will do so with more competition for a niche segment before COVID-19 begins: the business traveler.

The Toronto-based airline plans to resume service on September 8 with flights departing from the city’s Billy Bishop Airport, a key hub for Canadian business travelers who may be eager to get to work despite the uncertainty. current pandemic.

“When you talk to CEOs, business travel is down a bit because it’s only zooming in,” Karl Moore, associate professor at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management, said in an interview.

“A lot of executives say it’s harder to get new business if you can’t go to the customer. There is something about going to a customer’s site and seeing what it actually looks like.

Porter operates Bombardier Inc.-built Q400 turboprops from Billy Bishop just steps from Bay Street, which has helped the airline develop a core business traveler demographic, Moore said.

Porter hasn’t missed much during his absence, as the total number of Canadian air passengers in 2020 fell to 45.9 million, down 71.8% from 2019, according to Statistics Canada.

Although Porter has been inactive for longer than any of the other major Canadian airlines, it has also had the luxury of waiting for the various waves of COVID-19, as it does not have the same pressure from its shareholders as its rival Air. Canada, Moore said.

Although demand for commercial flights is lower than it was in 2019, Moore said he doesn’t think the outlook for the industry is as bleak as others might think.

Chris Murray, airline analyst at ATB Capital Markets, agrees. While frequent travelers may be anxious to get back on board, Murray believes it may still be some time before the skies are filled with executives again.

“For the typical Porter type of traveler, a lot of these people are still in work-from-home mode, probably over the next couple of months anyway,” Murray said in an interview.

“Our feeling is that the business traveler will come back. We may not really see it materialize until early next year. “

Murray noted that the air travel reboot started with the so-called VFR crowd – visiting friends and relatives – followed by longer vacations and pleasure trips. He said the full resumption of business travel is likely the last piece of the puzzle, and added that Porter’s biggest challenge will be ensuring he has enough staff to handle the ramp-up. operations.


Air Canada, however, is doing what it can to dampen Porter’s fanfare, announcing on Friday its intention to resume flights between Toronto and Montreal via Billy Bishop on the same day as Porter’s restart.

“Our schedule allows travelers to easily travel between Montreal and the Toronto Island Airport up to five times a day, connecting the two major shopping and cultural centers as we continue to play our role in revitalizing the economy. from Canada.” the company said in a statement.

“Air Canada will not leave this Billy Bishop route to Montreal defenseless,” said Murray. “He’s really the only one [route] Air Canada spends a lot of time competing directly with Porter.


That said, Porter is also trying to gain a foothold in Air Canada, announcing in July an order for 80 new planes from Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer SA. the United States and the Caribbean, something Porter has sought to do over the past decade.

While being so close to the city center has been a plus for business travelers, the airline’s growth has always been constrained by its reliance on the turboprop, which cannot cover as much ground as a gasoline engine. reaction, Murray said. Jets are not allowed to land at Billy Bishop Airport due to government restrictions.

“It’s an opportunity for consumers,” Moore said. “If there is more competition, prices and options will generally improve.”

While this may be a boon to customers, Air Canada is unlikely to see too much of an impact from increased competition from Pearson.

“I think from Air Canada’s point of view, they would never take a competitor like Porter lightly,” Murray said. “That said, this is just one of the many competitors that they will be dealing with when travel resumes, as you now have Flair Airlines and several other regional carriers.”

Air Canada has no doubt taken advantage of Porter’s absence, but customers will come back, Murray said. He highlighted the strong brand of Porter and its loyal customers.

Air Canada’s real asset is international travel, and Murray said there are some promising signs in that regard.

“Air Canada [recently] during his call, he spoke about the fact that they are starting to see bookings for the winter season in the Caribbean at levels above 2019. There is certainly a lot of pent-up demand.

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