All you need to know about Air Canada and Porter Airlines

If you follow me on social media, you know I was in Toronto a few weeks ago reporting feature stories on Porter Airlines and Air Canada for Aviation Week. [If you don't follow me on social media, please consider adding me on Twitter (@briansumers), Facebook (Facebook.com/briansumersblog) and Instagram (bsumers).]

Unfortunately, Aviation Week is behind a paywall, so you can only read the full text if you're a subscriber.

But here's a small taste of what I learned. 

Porter Airlines

For now, Toronto-based Porter Airlines only flies turboprops. Photo: Porter.

For now, Toronto-based Porter Airlines only flies turboprops. Photo: Porter.

  • Porter is a small airline based at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, which was essentially built on Lake Ontario in downtown Toronto.
  • With 26 Bombardier Q400 turboprops, Porter caters mainly to business travelers who value convenience. In addition to domestic operations, it flies to several airport in the United States, including Newark, Chicago Midway, Washington Dulles and Boston.
  • Porter wanted to fly Bombardier CS100 jets from the small airport, but the Canadian federal government said late in 2015 that Toronto's downtown airport will stay a turboprop only operation. With its plan no longer viable, Porter is deciding whether it still wants jets. "Obviously, we are reassessing our overall growth plans and where we can use those aircraft,” the CEO told. 
  • If Porter does add jets, it might use them in Halifax, Montreal and Ottawa. 
  • The big airport in Toronto is Toronto Pearson International. Porter could use jets there, but it has no desire to use the bigger airport.
  • Porter is now only in Eastern Canada. Eventually, it could expand to Canada's Western Triangle - Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.
  • Porter may try to fly its turboprops farther. It is already exploring some routes to South Carolina and Florida - a long way for Q400 - and says they have been performing well. “We are certainly finding that the Q400 has a bit more potential than we originally thought,” the CEO said.

Air Canada

Air Canada's global strategy relies on the Boeing 787. Photo: Air Canada 

Air Canada's global strategy relies on the Boeing 787. Photo: Air Canada 

  • When CEO Calin Rovinescu took over Air Canada in 2009, the airline was a financial mess. It took about five years to get costs under control. 
  • Now Air Canada is trying to grow internationally, adding a bunch of major destinations, including Dubai, Delhi and Brisbane. "We went through near death to survival to stability,” Air Canada President Ben Smith told me. “We are going through transformation. Our goal is to become a true global champion—a sustainable, profitable global champion.” 
  • Air Canada is using 787s for most of the new routes. "We can fly it pretty much anywhere," Smith said. "It is perfectly sized and the economics are fantastic.”
  • One of Air Canada's goals is to attract more American business class passengers. An ideal customer? Someone who flies from Cleveland to Shanghai once per quarter. The margins on that traveler are much higher than for a coach passenger on the same connection.
  • Most of Air Canada's new 787 routes this year and next will be what the airline calls "low risk." That means it is not going to experiment with new routes to Chinese cities like Chengdu and Xi'an. Those may be extremely profitable someday, but for now, they're risky. 
  • Air Canada will get its first Boeing 737Max aircraft in 2017. Some of the 737s eventually fly between Toronto and Europe, and those planes could even get flatbeds in business class.

Do you have questions about Air Canada or Porter? Feel free to ask them in the comments section. I likely know the answer.