Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 21 seconds.
After 16 months of pandemic-induced delays, Toronto-based Pivot Airlines is almost ready to sell tickets for its scheduled airline service offering.
The new operator expects to launch in the first quarter of 2022 with service from the Region of Waterloo International Airport (YKF) to Montreal and Ottawa. It hopes to add three U.S. destinations once regulatory approval is obtained, said Pivot Airlines CEO Eric Edmondson.
Tickets are expected to be available for purchase through www.flypivot.com sometime between Oct. 28 and Nov. 5. Although Edmondson said fares are still being fine tuned, he expects a one-way ticket to cost between $179 and $229.
“We’re positioning as a value brand,” he told Skies during a recent interview. “Our target is the business traveller, with some leisure travel, for those who expect a higher class of service.”
Pivot already has a check-in counter at the main terminal in Waterloo, and Edmondson said final negotiations are underway for hangar, maintenance, and operational facilities. The airline plans to maintain its current hangar and executive office at Toronto Pearson airport.
Currently, Pivot operates a Bombardier CRJ200 regional jet and has access to Dash 8-100s through an extended charter agreement with Central Mountain Air Ltd. in Calgary. The airline is actively seeking out additional CRJ aircraft to meet its initial launch requirements from Waterloo – in the neighbourhood of five aircraft all together, expects Edmondson.
“Our plan is to focus on all CRJ variants that are available, that would include the 200 up through the entire product line,” he said.
It’s been an interesting road for Pivot, which obtained its air operator certificate back in June 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic was wreaking havoc among other air operators.
“At that point, everyone was still unclear about the runway required to deal with Covid,” reflected Edmondson. “We were hopeful we could commence scheduled service within a few months, but we had to push that back quite a bit.”
Luckily, Pivot secured some essential service charter contracts and settled in to ride out the pandemic.
“We had the fortunate timing of being a small airline going into Covid, having a couple of key contracts, a small infrastructure, and incredible support from our union partners, ALPA, Unifor, and CUPE. We kept very busy during Covid, with not much excess capacity. In fact, we stopped active charter sales six months ago due to capacity constraints.”
With 25 people now on staff, Edmondson said Pivot is now seeing optimistic signs in the marketplace, brought on by high vaccine rates and the re-opening of the Canada-U.S. border and the Atlantic bubble.
“We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel. We were tempted to put our foot in the water a few times (with scheduled service) but we are happy we delayed.”
However, he said the company must still gauge Waterloo corporations’ appetite to resume business travel.
“Our launch of service will be dependent on the return of business travel,” said Edmondson. “It will come down to when those corporations tell us they want to travel again. I do believe business travel will be the last to come back, which is why we are lagging a bit behind some of the leisure-based carriers.”
With a focus on diversified services, Edmondson expects charters to remain a core aspect of the business plan, accounting for about 50 percent of the airline’s total future revenue. Outside of its scheduled operation fleet requirements, he said Pivot now has enough work for three charter aircraft based at Toronto Pearson.
“Our preference is to keep to the CRJ platform, but we’re not opposed to other types,” he said. “If the market opportunities are there, I do see us bringing the Dash 8-100 or -300 into our family. But if that turboprop market is not there, we’ll stick with CRJ variants.”
Pivot’s core business model calls for a heavy emphasis on regional airports, like Waterloo, that offer travelers the chance to avoid transiting through Pearson. The airline is currently discussing possible routes with some smaller Ontario markets that are currently without service.
“We’ll let the market drive things naturally,” said Edmondson. “We believe that if you don’t have a specific need to connect through Pearson, then you should consider the advantages offered by regional airports. If the market doesn’t shift to regional airports as we expect it to, and people have a continued desire to use a global hub for local travel, then of course we have our main base at Toronto Pearson. In some ways we’re splitting the difference, but we are really just catering to the same traveler during two different travel itineraries.”
Once it has established itself with a couple of domestic and transborder routes, Edmondson said Pivot will work to establish interline and codeshare agreements. But those plans, of course, are fully contingent upon the demand for business travel returning. If all goes according to plan, plane spotters will see Pivot Airlines taking off from Waterloo airport in early 2022.