Kitchener-Waterloo

Ruling that Flair is a Canadian-owned airline is good news for Waterloo region

After a couple of months' investigation, the Canadian Transportation Agency has determined Flair Airlines is a Canadian airline. Losing the airline's flights out of the Region of Waterloo International Airport would have been 'devastating' says one industry expert.

CEO says airline 'has gone line-by-line' to address transport authority's concerns

The Canadian Transportation Agency determined Flair Airlines is a Canadian airline after Flair addressed the agency's concerns around the airline's governance. (flyflair.com)

Canada's transportation agency has determined that Flair Airlines is a Canadian airline, which is good news for the organization and the Region of Waterloo airport.

"The decision that has come out today is very clear, it's black or white: Flair is Canadian," said Stephen Jones, CEO of Flair Airlines during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) had been reviewing whether Flair met the requirements of Canadian ownership since it issued a preliminary ruling in March, noting that the airline "may not be controlled in fact by Canadians and may, therefore, not be 'Canadian,' as defined in the Canada Transportation Act."

The decision by the CTA  means the airline can keep its operating licence and continue commercial flights in Canada.

Decision also good news for regional airport

That decision came as good news for Waterloo region, which signed an exclusive agreement with Flair Airlines to begin flying out of the Region of Waterloo International Airport in 2021.

"These low-cost airlines tend to fly into smaller region airports and that really stimulates regional economic development by doing that," said Marion Joppe, a professor at the University of Guelph's School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism.

Joppe said Flair losing its operating licence would have meant that the airline would have had to pull out of the region.

"That would have been devastating for the Region of Waterloo," she said, noting many smaller airports mostly rely on one carrier.

"They've had difficulty in attracting other airlines. WestJet has a flight out of Waterloo ... Air Canada has never shown interest."

According to the Region of Waterloo, the airport became incredibly busy during the pandemic.

"In 2021, the Region of Waterloo International Airport was ranked the 6th busiest in the country and the number of passengers moving through our airport has increased 245% since 2019," said Region of Waterloo Chair Karen Redman in an emailed statement to CBC News.

Redman largely credited Flair Airlines with that growth and said the company continues "to respond to the growing demand of our community members."

The airline currently flies from Waterloo region to 13 destinations in Canada, the United States and Mexico. 

The CTA's decision also has wider implications, Joppe added, saying it's also good news for the country. Low-cost carriers are needed in Canada, she said, and smaller regional airports can step up to meet that demand.

"Pearson is already overused, we see that right now with the endless lineups. There are no line-ups when you go to Waterloo Regional Airport," she said.

"We really should be using regional airports to a greater extent."

Addressing CTA's concerns

Jones said Flair "has gone line-by-line" to address the CTA's concerns around governance and other finance-related concerns.

Flair was previously in a position where its board of directors was made up of mostly non-Canadian members, Jones said.

Now, Flair has expanded its board of directors to nine seats, Jones said, seven of which will be filled in by Canadians. 

"We haven't yet seated all of those, we've called for nominations. There will be a share holder's meeting shortly to put those directors in place," he said Wednesday.

Flair made amendments to its Unanimous Shareholder Agreement, a governing document for the airline business, Jones explained, to make sure it's clear that Canadians have control of the decision making process. 

"On reflection, the governance document when it was written in 2018 could have been written more clear about all those things we added," he said.

In terms of the Flair's operation, nothing's changed, Jones said. Flair will continue to grow its network, jobs and provide low-cost flights for Canadians.

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