Canada’s largest airline has confidence in the Nanaimo market, both in the short and long term.
Beginning on June 21, Air Canada will begin operating non-stop service from Toronto to Nanaimo with its low-cost subsidiary, Air Canada Rouge. The route will be operated with a 136-seat Airbus A319, which will be configured with premium economy and economy seating.
During an event hosted by the Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce last Friday, Kevin Howlett, senior vice-president of regional markets for Air Canada, spoke about the new route, telling a group of business people that the airline has seen “robust growth” in the mid-Island market, adding that the new non-stop service to Toronto represents a significant investment.
“We are making a huge investment here in Nanaimo this summer. We are positioning one of our most valuable assets on this route,” Howlett said. “It’s up to the community to support this if this service is to return [in future years] and our hope is that it will return.”
Howlett said Air Canada has added 10 per cent more flights to and from Nanaimo this year and that the new route means an additional 34 per cent increase in seats.
“Of all the passengers that flew with us out of Nanaimo in 2017, more than 84 per cent were connecting to other destinations,” he said, adding that the top designations included Toronto, Calgary, Las Vegas and Beijing.
Should the route be highly successful, there is no reason why it cannot eventually turn into a daily service and even a year-round service, according to Howlett.
“But we need to have a business case to take that scope of an investment to our board and our network planning people to make that happen,” he said.
Speaking to the News Bulletin afterwards, Howlett said Air Canada is confident that the Toronto-to-Nanaimo route will be successful, adding that the mid-Island air travel market continues to grow.
“The diversity of demand out of a market like Nanaimo and the north Island, both inbound and outbound, can warrant a non-stop service,” he said. “There is no reason why this won’t work.”
As a result of the new route, Howlett said travellers will be able make easier connections to destinations from Toronto, including Portugal, Croatia and Romania. He said new the service also means travellers from eastern Canada and the United States and beyond can reach Nanaimo in one stop, which should benefit local businesses in the region.
As part of its fleet modernization program, Air Canada has ordered 45 of Bombardier’s CS300 jets, a fuel-efficient single-aisle aircraft that has a range of more than 5,000 kilometres and can take off on short runways. Howlett called the CS300 “game changing,” adding that it could potentially be used on routes serving Vancouver Island, including Nanaimo.
“The C-Series will start coming in the back half of 2019 for us. That is about 140 seats, depending on what configuration we want to put in it. That too, will be an important of what we can do in market development and markets like Nanaimo, Kelowna, where we have got demand but you don’t necessarily have a lot of volume,” he said. “The C-Series, we think, hits the sweet spot.”
Long-term, Air Canada believes regional airports, particularly those in British Columbia, will continue to see increased growth and demand as more people retire and younger people relocate from more expensive housing markets.
Howlett said with housing becoming increasingly unaffordable in major cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, younger people are moving to other more affordable markets like Nanaimo and Kelowna, but still want the amenities of the bigger cities. He said one of those amenities is air travel and improved connectivity.
“Is that really apparent today? Well, we are seeing early signs of it,” he said. “I think it is going to grow over time.”