Toronto-based Porter Airlines will not resume flying until July 20. After several delays, the airline most recently expected to resume flights on June 21. On Monday, citing continuing uncertainty presented by government travel restrictions, including border closures, Porter Airlines announced a new July restart date.
“We want to see our planes in the sky as soon as possible and are actively working to prepare for our resumption of services,” says Porter Airlines in a statement. “However, the ongoing uncertainty presented by government travel restrictions, including border closures, is impacting our ability to operate flights.”
” We are closely watching developments and know that Porter will be an important part of providing people with travel options as the economy recovers.”
The latest in a series of pushbacks for Porter Airlines
Porter Airlines parked its fleet of Dash 8-400 aircraft in March 2020. Since then, numerous planned restarts have been shelved. When parking his planes, Porter Airlines CEO Michael Deluce expected to see his aircraft back in the air by mid-year. Like many airline executives, he expected the worldwide drop in passenger demand and travel restrictions to be a short-term hiccup.
But that’s not how it has turned out. This year alone, a March 29 restart date was pushed back to May 19. Mid-May soon segued to June 21. That June date is now dropped in favor of July 20.
“It is necessary to reset our sights based on changing conditions,” said Porter Airlines CEO Michael Deluce when pushing back an earlier restart date.
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Border closures and travel restrictions hinder Porter Airlines
Despite operating a fleet of just 29 Dash 8s, Porter Airlines made a name for itself with a relatively unusual operating model. Based at Toronto’s secondary but handy Billy Bishop Airport, Porter Airlines is a contemporary reworking of the old commuter airline model.
A Dash 8-400 can fly around 1,100 nautical miles (2,040 kilometers). That allowed Porter Airlines to offer flights to various destinations across southeast Canada. Porter Airlines also normally flies into the northeast corner of the United States. Passengers could easily scoot into Toronto for a day’s work or appointments before heading home.
But Canada’s tough and ongoing border restrictions have upended easy movement between the United States and Canada. Canada’s domestic airline market, while beginning to recover, also nosedived in 2020. Current average daily commercial domestic flights across Canada are up on mid-May 2020 levels. However, current flight numbers are still less than half of mid-May 2019 levels.
Some industry insiders question the future of the Dash 8-400
While the Porter Airlines regional aircraft commuter model has fans and even imitators (United States-based Connect Airlines is eyeing the Porter Airlines model), it also has its detractors.
Across the Atlantic, Austrian Airlines has been busy removing Dash 8-400s from its fleet. That airline’s CEO, Alexis von Hoensbroech, argues operating regional aircraft is a lost cause. He thinks the travel downturn and decline in demand for new planes will see the demise of the Dash 8.
“Over the last decades, we have seen that flying regional aircraft is basically a business that is dying out,” Alexis von Hoensbroech recently told Routes Reconnected. “This is a trend you can’t work against because the ticket prices came down so much that the unit cost of small aircraft are just too big.”
That is a Dash 8 doomsday scenario that many others don’t share. It also does not account for the different market conditions in densely populated Europe and far less densely populated Canada. But with Porter’s North American competitors offering sleek Embraer E2 jets and brand new Airbus A220s on some of the routes (especially those into the United States) that Porter Airlines normally faeries, the Porter Airlines operating model is not without its challenges.
But in the meantime, Porter Airlines simply need to get its planes back in the air.