Review of Flair Airlines underway but CEO says it's 'here to stay'

Flair Airlines is currently under review by the Canadian Transportation Agency, over concerns that the airline "may not be controlled in fact by Canadians and may, therefore, not be ‘Canadian,’ as defined in the Canada Transportation Act."

Transportation Agency reviewing whether airline is controlled ‘in fact’ by Canadians

Construction is underway at the Region of Waterloo Airport to double its size. The region hopes to become a hub for ultra-low cost carriers, with Flair Airlines inking a deal to fly out of the airport earlier this year. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

The CEO of the low-cost carrier Flair Airlines says the airline is here to stay, despite a federal review of whether or not the airline is sufficiently Canadian.

"Flair will continue to fly; Flair Customers can continue to book our everyday low fares with confidence," said Stephen Jones during a virtual news conference Thursday. 

On March 3, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) issued a preliminary ruling that found the airline "may not be controlled in fact by Canadians and may, therefore, not be 'Canadian,' as defined in the Canada Transportation Act."

Flair has until May 3 to respond, though Jones said Thursday that most of the issues in question have been resolved — aside from the outstanding debt the carrier owes to a Miami-based investment firm. Flair Airlines has asked Transport Canada for an 18-month exemption to refinance that debt. 

Flair Airlines' President and CEO Stephen Jones spoke to media Thursday about the ongoing review of the airline by the Canadian Transportation Agency. (Microsoft Teams)

Jones also emphasized that May 3 is not a "drop dead date" when the airline is required to have all its issues settled. 

In response to questions from CBC about the federal review, a spokesperson for the transportation agency said a panel will determine "next steps" once Flair submits its response. The spokesperson said the panel has no specific timeline to render a decision.

"The Panel will consider all evidence and if it determines at the end of the process that Flair is not Canadian, Flair's licences would be suspended," the CTA spokesperson said. 

YKF expansion tied to Flair Airlines

In recent months, the Region of Waterloo has repeatedly sung Flair Airlines' praises while moving forward with a major expansion of the Region of Waterloo International Airport (YKF). 

In February 2021, the airline said it had inked a deal to begin flying out of YKF. By October, the region was holding a press conference to announce a $44 million airport expansion — with a lime green Flair Airlines jet in the background.

On Thursday, the region held another event to announce the opening of the airport's new domestic arrivals building, "another step toward the airport managing the increased passenger volumes created by Flair Airlines," according to a news release. 

Asked if Flair Airlines had known of potential regulatory issues when the airport expansion began, Jones said the company became aware of the issues on March 3. 

"We'd been exchanging information with [the CTA] backwards and forwards, but until we got the preliminary determination … we were just still in the process,'" he said. 

Jones also denied that the YKF airport expansion had been made in vain, calling it an "incredibly wise and farsighted investment by the region." 

Region stands by Flair

For its part, the Region of Waterloo continues to stand by Flair and the airport expansion. 

Regional Chair Karen Redman has sent Transport Canada a letter in support of the airline's request for a temporary ministerial exemption.

In a statement to CBC, the region's commissioner of planning, development and legislative services said the airline has brought economic and employment growth to the region, and proven that there is "significant existing demand" for air service in the community. 

"Therefore, we are confident that routes out of YKF will be attractive for other airlines as well," said Rod Regier.