The pandemic hit Porter Airlines hard. With a business model focused on short-haul, transborder flights and the US-Canada border closed there was not much the company could do but shut down and try to ride it out. With plans now to resume operations in early September the airline is ready to reinvent itself. Not only will it bring back its core services at Toronto’s downtown Billy Bishop Airport, but it will also add jet service from other hubs, dramatically increasing its presence in Canada and the USA.
The company ordered 30 E195-E2 jets from Embraer to extend its route map. Deliveries are expected to begin in the second half of 2022. Another 50 options are also on the books.
The new E2s will serve popular business and leisure destinations across Canada, the US, the Caribbean, and Mexico from Toronto Pearson Airport, Montréal, Ottawa and Halifax.
The company hopes to capture market share from Air Canada and WestJet. The two larger Canadian airlines continued operation through the pandemic but cut back on capacity. Porter hopes some of those cuts are permanent and that it can pick up the overflow. Whether Porter can transition from a business-focused, premium carrier to the more leisure markets, however, remains to be seen.
Porter faces competition on multiple fronts. Flair is the newest Canadian ULCC. It also targets warm weather destinations. And then there is Connect Airways, based in the US but aiming for a major presence in downtown Toronto, effectively cloning the original Porter model.
A revamped in-flight experience
Porter is known, among other things, for its premium in-flight experience. This includes complimentary beer and wine served in glassware. All passengers also receive complimentary snacks on board.
This offering will extend and enhance on the new E2 family of aircraft. the company promises “to keep you entertained and comfortable on our longer-haul flights,” implying that at least some version of in-flight entertainment will take flight with the new fleet.
Adding some IFE option is essentially table stakes at this point. All of Porter’s Canadian competitors – even Nolinor on its older 737s – offer some version of IFE on board, though the implementations vary.
The mention of comfortable in that line could be read as the company also planning a premium cabin, something the Q400s do not offer. No mention of in-flight connectivity, though that could end up part of the entertainment package.
Jonesing for Jets
Today’s news is not the first time Porter flirted with jet aircraft, but it is much more likely to yield results. In 2013 the company announced plans to operate the CSeries 100 from its home base at Billy Bishop Airport. The problem, of course, is that the airport does not allow jets and the runway was too short for the CSeries – now the Airbus A220 – to work. Despite heavy lobbying, Porter’s efforts to open up the airport failed and the order scuttled in 2015.
That the carrier chose the E2 rather than A220 this second time around raises more than a few eyebrows, to be sure. While the performance improved in the E2 generation of aircraft, longer stage lengths tended to tip the scales in favor of the CSeries compared to the E195 from a fuel efficiency and overall trip cost perspective. The tipping point was generally seen around the two hour mark, or 900ish miles. Looking at the proposed route map, nearly all of the potential markets are longer than two hour flights.
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