Cheap flight options soar as Flair, Swoop, Lynx add services

· The Pulse
By Paul Cashman
in the Business Roundup

Edmonton's Flair Airlines is adding flights and expanding its fleet, as the ultra-low-cost carrier faces new competition from WestJet-owned Swoop and soon-to-launch Lynx Air for bargain-hunting travellers.

Flair will offer non-stop Mexico flights this winter to Cancun and Los Cabos, departing from airports in Vancouver, Abbotsford, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Kitchener-Waterloo.

"Expanding internationally is really something that's core to our growth strategy moving forward," Garth Lund, Flair's chief commercial officer, told the Canadian Press. "I think there's a lot of opportunity to bring low fares to a lot of destinations ... for next winter, we'll be looking to expand probably into other places in Mexico and into the Caribbean."

Since the beginning of this year, Flair has announced 18 new destinations, while expanding its service to 31 cities. "We started the year with three aircraft, we'll end with 12, by the end of next year we'll have 20," Lund said. "And we'll keep growing beyond that."

Calgary-based Swoop is also offering new options for Edmonton travellers, adding eight new domestic flight destinations and one new international route from the Edmonton International Airport (EIA).

The airline's capacity in Edmonton will increase 76% compared to pre-pandemic levels. The new routes will create 140 additional direct and spin-off jobs, plus an anticipated economic output of $120 million in 2022.

A Swoop aircraft

Flair Airlines, Swoop, and Lynx Air will compete for airspace in the low-cost flights market. Swoop

The airline also revealed its 10th aircraft, a Boeing 737-800 with #Edmonton painted onto its side. "We want to be number one in Edmonton," CEO Charles Duncan told CTV News. "It's just the beginning, we're planning this coming summer to grow from 10 to 15 airplanes, and ultimately our ambition is to grow to 30 aircrafts."

New airline Lynx Air also announced aggressive growth targets. The former Calgary-based charter airline Enerjet is expecting to launch service in 2022 with three Boeing 737s, and plans to grow to 46 aircraft over seven years.

Robert Kokonis, president of independent Canadian aviation consultancy AirTrav Inc., said a few years ago he would have doubted that Canada could support this many ultra-low-cost carriers.

"I think as Flair and Swoop have both grown, they're succeeding in getting Canadians to understand what the ULCC model is," he told the Canadian Press. "I'm feeling very bullish that Canadian travellers are getting acclimatized to that model."

One issue facing Canadian airlines is a looming pilot shortage, which was a concern for the industry before the pandemic and is expected to reappear as flight volumes rebound and carriers look to restore crew capacity.

"We are growing, so it's a bit different for us," Capt. Matthew Kunz, Flair's vice-president of business transformation and operations, told Skies Magazine. "Everything for us is really growth. We started with three aircraft and dipped to one at the lowest point of the pandemic, but since then we've been able to take advantage of what's been happening in the industry.

"Legacy carriers had to cut capacity; they carried a lot of costs. We were small, with no debt burdening us."