Budget airline NewLeaf Travel wants to make Hamilton a hub
Hopes to launch this summer on 'unserved and underserved' routes
An Ontario businessman with a career in airlines and hotels says he hopes his ultra-low-cost airline, NewLeaf Travel Co., will have its eastern stop in Hamilton.
"The idea is that we are trying to lower the airfares," said Jim Young. "We're focusing on secondary airports. We don't like high-cost airports like Vancouver, Calgary, (Toronto) Pearson." In the west, Young is aiming to fly into Abbotsford, B.C., instead of Vancouver International.
Young said he hopes to launch this summer on "unserved and underserved routes."
The idea comes as Air Canada is preparing to launch discount "Rouge" flights between Hamilton and Calgary in June.
Young should know; for six months he was head of Canadian Jetlines, another aspiring ultra-low-cost carrier that has said it wants to make Hamilton its eastern hub. There's a difference, he says.
Jetlines is starting from "a clean sheet of paper, whereas [Newleaf has] taken a more partnership approach," Young said.
The company is partnering with Kelowna, B.C.-based Flair Airlines, a private charter airline, for aircraft, maintenance and crews. Rather than buying planes from scratch, partnering with Flair will cut out some of the operational hurdles to getting a new airline off the ground, Young hopes.
Lauren Yaksich, director of marketing for the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport said discussions with NewLeaf are so far confidential, but said the airport is hoping to be the southern Ontario home for a low-cost airline like NewLeaf or another.
'Fly local, pay local'
The company hopes to look like the budget Ryanair in Europe, or Spirit or Allegiant airlines in the United States.
The company will sell packages with hotels and rental cars to Canadian and U.S. holiday destinations. But it will also hope to fill a low-cost flight niche for barebones customers looking for "a seat and a seatbelt" for casual travel.
Young eyes the market for Ontario residents who drive past Hamilton's airport on their way to fly from Buffalo and Niagara Falls in the U.S. He pegged that contingent at more than 5 million people annually, and said he hopes that NewLeaf could help convince them to "fly local, pay local."
Young has had tenures at Frontier, Canadian and Continental airlines. He started an outfit in Chicago called Festival Airlines that was eventually taken down by high oil prices and the financial collapse. He was also an executive at Frontier Airlines. He spent some time in England at a hotels group.
Having built, restructured and even closed airlines, Young said he admits there's cynicism about would-be airlines.
But for about nine months, he and the NewLeaf team have been strategizing their entry into the market, potentially this summer. They flew skiers from the GTA out to B.C. resorts in ski season.
'Hey, we're thinking of starting an airline!'
NewLeaf has tried to fly under the radar while recruiting investors, talking with the Hamilton airport and running some test flights.
"We just haven't come out and said anything," Young said.
Young said after 25 years in the airline and hospitality industries, he didn't want to come on too strong at the outset.
"I've seen so many of these 'Hey, we're thinking of starting an airline!' and then it's 'Wait for it, wait for it...'" he said.
He said flight regulators won't allow him to release exact routes or prices until they're actually for sale.