NewLeaf revives Hamilton airport hopes of becoming a passenger hub

A new “ultra-low cost” airline will start flying out of Hamilton in February, giving a much-needed boost to the airport’s efforts to boost passenger traffic.

TradePort promised 1 million passenger flights by 2010, but has struggled under market trends

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The new "ultra-low cost" airline that will start flying out of Hamilton Airport in February gives a much-needed boost to the airport's efforts to increase passenger traffic.

And with two other airlines talking about including Hamilton in their plans to launch similar discount services, airport leaders are hoping it all signals the change in the marketplace it needs to capture even more traffic.

NewLeaf will fly to Halifax, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Kelowna and Abbotsford, B.C. to start, with flights starting at $89. It will offer flights from Hamilton to all but Abbottsford, starting Feb. 12.  The cheapest Hamilton flight is $99.

Hamilton has seen other low-cost airlines try and fail at operating long-term service from the John C. Munro International Airport.

We're in it for the long haul.- Dean Dacko, NewLeaf

But Dean Dacko, chief commercial officer, said the travel company aims to stay.

"We're in it for the long haul," Dacko said at a media conference at the Hamilton airport passenger terminal on Wednesday morning.

"We're very confident we'll be here for quite sometime."

That would be good news for TradePort, the company that operates the airport. In 1996, it promised one million passengers by 2010, but passenger traffic has steadily decreased since 2009.

"Until something fundamentally changes in the marketplace, it's going to continually be a challenge for us," said Frank Scremin, the airport's president and CEO, during an annual report to city council in March.

Scremin said on Wednesday that the advent of low-cost Canadian airlines is one of the changes the market needs. The airport has also been talking to Canadian Jetlines in B.C. and EnerJet in Alberta and Air Canada Rouge.

It's something we work on non-stop, every day.- Frank Scremin, Hamilton airport president, on attracting more passenger service 

"Based on the research we've done, the ultra-low cost strategy has proven to be successful in the U.S. and successful in Europe," he said. "We know there's demand for ultra-low cost services in Canada."

With Hamilton's location, cost and quick turnaround for flights, "we think again our value proposition aligns with an ultra low-cost carrier."

Bringing more passenger flights to Hamilton, he said, is "something we work on non-stop, every day."

Air Canada's also plans to operate Rouge service out of Hamilton, although the launch was pushed back to May 2016 after a crash in Halifax took a plane out of its fleet.

On Tuesday, Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick did not confirm the company's launch date.

"At this point we are still finalizing our summer schedule, but I can tell you we remain interested in serving Hamilton," he said. 

Jetlines president David Solloway did not return requests Tuesday from CBC Hamilton to comment on how NewLeaf's launch may affect his company's plans. 

Flair Airlines will operate the NewLeaf flights with its fleet of 737-400 passenger jets. NewLeaf will start with two planes in February and "very quickly" increase that to five, Dacko said. The eventual goal is 15 planes.

NewLeaf also plans to expand to other cities, including American possibilities such as Arizona and Las Vegas.

Introductory rates will range from $89 to $149, tax included, for a no-frills ticket. NewLeaf will keep rates low by using several cost-cutting measures, Dacko said, including doing its own online bookings through its website.

NewLeaf introductory fares from Hamilton (one way)

  • Hamilton to Halifax: $99
  • Hamilton to Regina: $119
  • Hamilton to Saskatoon: $119
  • Hamilton to Kelowna: 149
  • Winnipeg to Hamilton: $99

Other introductory fares:

  • Kelowna to Saskatoon: $89
  • Kelowna to Regina: $99
  • Abbotsford to Saskatoon: $89
  • Abbotsford to Regina: $89
  • Kelowna to Winnipeg: $99
  • Abbotsford to Winnipeg: $119

With files from Kelly Bennett


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