Direct Winnipeg to Los Angeles flight would be 'game changer' for local movie industry, says film group

​Manitoba Film and Music is hoping the recent film production boom in the province will finally convince airlines to offer a direct flight between Winnipeg and Los Angeles.

Booming movie, TV industry creates bedrock for direct flight to Los Angeles, Manitoba Film and Music says

Crews film on a frozen river just outside of La Salle, Man., in December. While Manitoba's film industry posted its best year in a decade last year, Manitoba Film and Music's CEO says the province is losing out on productions because of the lack of a direct flight between Winnipeg and L.A. (CBC)

Manitoba Film and Music is hoping the recent film production boom in the province will finally convince airlines to provide a direct flight between Winnipeg and Los Angeles — the lack of which is holding back film production in the province, according to CEO Carole Vivier.

"We have definitely lost productions without a direct flight. The cast can't get home. The director can't get home. Producers can't get back quickly. They can't get their actors in," she said.

Vivier has been lobbying for a direct Winnipeg-L.A. flight for the past six years with no luck but last year, the local film industry posted its best year in a decade, and it's on track to beat those numbers this year.

She said Manitoba could snag even more productions from other Canadian provinces with a direct flight to Hollywood.

"We go to Los Angeles to market. I have to say, the first question we get asked in every single meeting always is, 'Do you have a direct flight yet?'"

Currently, passengers travelling between Winnipeg and L.A. have to connect through Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver or an American city.

Vivier said in 2015, about 35,000 passengers travelled between Los Angeles and Winnipeg, but she believes the numbers are higher now and would increase dramatically if a direct flight were offered.
Manitoba Film and Music CEO Carole Vivier is lobbying for a direct flight between Winnipeg and Los Angeles to take the province's film industry to the next level. (CBC)

"There's lots of other industries here that would benefit from having those direct flights. The chamber of commerce for both Manitoba and Winnipeg, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Travel Manitoba, tourism — there's lots of businesses that I've talked to that all have the same lament."

As for film, a direct flight would make a particular impact on the production of TV series, where huge amounts of money are at stake, especially when shows get renewed for multiple seasons.

"When a series is shooting, they need their cast to come in and out quickly. Without having a direct flight it puts that at risk," Vivier said. "I've had executives at studios say, 'If you had a direct flight, it would be a game changer for Manitoba.'"

She said a film shoot can bring 25 to 30 flight bookings, with the numbers higher for series, and Manitoba typically has multiple productions going on even through the formerly slow winter months.

But airlines are reluctant.

'Where's the money?'

Air Canada said in a statement they don't speculate about new routes or city pairings as a matter of policy, but there are no plans to operate a Winnipeg-Los Angeles route right now.

They said they will continue to monitor all markets for future expansion.

WestJet said they aren't considering a Winnipeg to LAX flight and instead, they're "building our hubs out of Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto," where they already have non-stop flights to Los Angeles.

The Winnipeg Airports Authority’s Tyler MacAfee said they’re talking to airlines about introducing a direct Winnipeg-Los Angeles route. (CBC)

The Winnipeg Airports Authority's Tyler MacAfee said they're also talking to airlines about introducing the route.

"That L.A. service is always one we're talking about," he said.

But, he cautioned, "one of the challenges with a film is you could see a spike of traffic while it's filming, but without that being sustainable over the long term."

Right now, the airports authority isn't looking at helping subsidize the route either.

"One of the challenges with subsidies is that they run out. A lot of airports have that challenge where they provide subsidies to airlines, the subsidy runs out, the airline says, 'Where's the money?' and it's not there and they move on to something else. It's something we don't regularly pursue," he said.

Low-cost carriers a possible solution

But there is a glimmer of hope.

"The other piece that connects with this as well is some of the new airlines that are going to be entering the market," said MacAfee. "Some of these new low-cost carriers — they're looking at some of these routes that maybe some of the airlines aren't ready for yet."

MacAfee said those carriers need fewer people to make money.

"It's a conversation we're having with those airlines, to say, 'Is this possible?'"

Vivier is now working with the Winnipeg and Manitoba chambers of commerce and the Winnipeg Airports Authority to bring new numbers to airlines in an effort to convince them there's long-term sustainability for the route.