News

15-minute Toronto flight draws customers

By Maryanne Firth, St. Catharines Standard

Visitors to Niagara disembark a plane at Niagara District Airport Monday September 19, 2016 . Bob Tymczyszyn/St. Catharines Standard/Postmedia Network

Visitors to Niagara disembark a plane at Niagara District Airport Monday September 19, 2016 . Bob Tymczyszyn/St. Catharines Standard/Postmedia Network

Interest has taken off in the new weekday air service connecting Niagara to Toronto.

Passenger flights began running to and from Niagara District Airport in Niagara-on-the-Lake last Thursday and the response has been better than expected, said Chris Nowrouzi, president and CEO of Greater Toronto Airways.

“We are very happy with the way things are going,” he said, adding several sell-out flights have been booked for the coming weeks.

Since operations began, there have been three full planes with a handful of customers on the remaining flights between the two communities, he said.

“It’s much better than we were expecting for the start.”

The Piper Chieftain used for the service has a six-passenger executive or eight-passenger commuter configuration.

Flights depart Niagara District Airport at 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., travelling to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, also known as Toronto Island Airport.

Flights from Toronto to Niagara depart at 7 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

It costs $85 ($96 after tax) for a one-way ticket and $159 for roundtrip ($180 after tax).

The airline has been seeing its lowest numbers on the 7 a.m. flights from Toronto to Niagara, but has not yet made any determination about whether that time will be adjusted.

Because the bookings are going so well, Nowrouzi said, the company is considering adding additional runs throughout the day.

However, a decision is unlikely to be made for at least another month until more “concrete numbers” are available.

Those added flights, which would not immediately require fleet expansion, would also take place during the week to help accommodate the demand being seen, Nowrouzi said.

Weekends are not yet on the radar.

To continue to grow its clientele base, Greater Toronto Airways is using a number of outlets to help advertise the service.

“We’re on billboards all around Toronto and on the Gardiner Expressway, so people sitting in traffic get to see us quite a bit,” Nowrouzi said lightheartedly. “We also have a couple of firms on the Niagara side working for us.”

There has been a lot of excitement from the business community, he said, calling it a much-needed addition to Niagara’s transportation network.

“I think it was a long time coming.”

Since the service was announced Aug. 9, “we’ve had hundreds of e-mails from people expressing their interest and their gratitude about us finally connecting the two cities,” he said.

The flights between Niagara and Toronto take about 15 minutes.

While operations have been free of turbulence thus far, there will likely be some minor tweaks made moving forward, Nowrouzi said.

Those changes will be determined through discussions with customers, he added.

There has been some interest expressed in seeing the morning flight to Toronto take off about 30 minutes earlier, at 8 a.m., to give passengers “some breathing room to get into the city to their meetings,” he said. “That’s the only change we might see in the short term.”

Nowrouzi called customer service the airline’s No. 1 priority.

As a result, responding and adapting to customer feedback is key, he said.

“In the new year we’ll be looking at the service, what we need to change, how we can make it better and (whether) we need to expand.”

Airport commission chairman Gary Murphy said the group is pleased with how the service has been progressing.

He felt some of the initial flights were a little light on passengers, but that “loads are picking up.”

“With a little bit more marketing, I think it will really do well.”

Airport management, he said, plans to work with the airline to introduce company officials to local tourism associations and other relevant businesses and agencies.

Murphy said there has been near daily communication between the commission and the airline to ensure the operation runs smoothly.

“We have a really strong vested interest in this becoming a success. We’re not passive, by any stretch of the imagination.”

After about a month of operations, the commission intends to conduct an analysis of the service’s clientele.

“We want to know who those passengers are, where they’re coming from and what the purpose is for their travel. We want to know the demographics.”

For more information, visit flygta.com.

mfirth@postmedia.com

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