London airport’s deal with Flair heats up ultra-low-cost competition

Avatar for Skies MagazineBy Skies Magazine | June 23, 2022

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 1 seconds.

Flair Airlines is growing its service network once again with the recent announcement that the carrier is launching nonstop service to London International Airport. Flair will fly once a week from YXU to Tucson, Arizona, beginning in December.

The news means that Flair’s competitor, Swoop, will no longer be the only ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) serving London. Swoop currently offers direct service from YXU to Edmonton.

London International Airport terminal. YXU Photo

London airport CEO Scott McFadzean feels the competition is a positive thing for Canadian aviation.

“I think, traditionally, Canada hasn’t been strong with low-cost carrier offerings,” he said, “and in the past that’s driven a lot of people to travel from border town airports in the United States because they had low-cost carrier options. So, for the first time Canada is seeing some really good low-cost carriers coming into the market and it’s really allowing affordable travel for Canadians. It just helps the market and helps us keep people flying out of Canadian airports.”

McFadzean, who previously served as CEO of Diamond Aircraft, said the airport approached Flair about a potential deal in February, as YXU is still in recovery mode from the pandemic.

“We’ll record two-and-a-half times more passengers than last year, but that certainly is still a long way away from where we were in 2019 traffic levels,” he said.

“We wanted to give more options to the customers in London and surrounding southwestern Ontario. We saw Flair with their growth plans . . . and kind of focusing on secondary airports and not going into major hubs. We thought there was a good fit.”

McFadzean is excited about Tucson, as the airport has “never had direct service to Arizona before,” he said. “There are a lot of Londoners that have second homes in Arizona . . . and it’s a beautiful part of the world that we think more Londoners and people in the surrounding area can enjoy. It’s 350 days a year of pure sunshine and no humidity.”

The deal with Flair is part of YXU’s rebuilding strategy. In addition to Flair and Swoop, London airport’s airline partners include Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing, and Air Transat.

McFadzean is confident that Flair’s new Tucson route is just the beginning of a “long-term partnership” with the airport.

Flair Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8. Galen Burrows Photo

“We are working actively with Flair to add more sun destinations in the winter, but also building domestic service for 2023 to offer some Canadian options as well,” he said.

Flair is currently also serving the Kitchener-Waterloo region out of YKF airport, roughly one hour northeast of London. YKF made an exclusivity deal with Flair in early 2021, which means that Swoop is unable to offer flights from that airport — a reality that Swoop president Bob Cummings said is disappointing.

CTV News reported that YKF had offered the same exclusivity deal to all Canadian carriers, but Swoop opted not to make a bid as they did not believe in exclusivity.

“They could’ve asked us to run the routes non-exclusively and we would have been thrilled with that,” said YKF airport director Chris Wood.

Earlier this year, Swoop had asked the federal government to void Flair’s exclusivity arrangement with YKF. Flair had been dealing with a preliminary review issued in March by the Canadian Transportation Agency, which stated the airline may not be Canadian controlled — meaning it could lose its operating license. However, on June 1, the CTA announced that Flair had addressed the concerns raised by the agency, and that the airline is, indeed, Canadian.

Flair has been working toward an ambitious growth plan since Stephen Jones took over as CEO in October 2020 — growing both the airline’s route network and fleet. Flair already serves 40 cities in North America (including Mexico), and is on track to have 19 aircraft in its fleet by July. CEO Jones said the airline will look to add an additional 10 aircraft in early 2023, with the goal to get to 50 aircraft by 2025.

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