Bookings have begun rolling in for upcoming flights connecting Niagara and Toronto — and it comes as no surprise to Mishka Balsom.
The president and CEO of Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce believes the air service offered by Greater Toronto Airways announced Tuesday will be a “great benefit” to the local business community.
Flights, which officially take off Sept. 15, will depart Niagara District Airport in Niagara-on-the-Lake each weekday at 8:30 a.m. and land at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, also known as Toronto Island airport, less than 15 minutes later. Return flights will leave Toronto at 4:30 p.m.
The service — on a plane with six-to-eight seats — can also be used for day trips to Niagara, departing Toronto at 7:15 a.m. and returning at 6 p.m.
It will cost travellers $85 ($96 after tax) for a one-way flight and $159 for roundtrip ($180 after tax).
“I think from a business perspective it is an affordable option to take advantage of,” Balsom said, calling the cost comparable to commuter services in other communities.
During the chamber’s Business After 5 event Tuesday, she heard from many people who echoed her thoughts.
“The positive feedback from a cross-section of different businesses that were there was really wonderful to see,” Balsom said. “There was not a person there who said it’s too expensive, that it wasn’t welcomed or that it wasn’t something they would consider. It created a lot of positive conversation and I think that’s a really good sign.”
As the saying goes, “time is money,” she said, and any option that saves valuable time, in addition to gas and parking costs, deserves a closer look.
It may not be ideal for daily travels to and from Toronto, but may ease the burden and stress of the commute if taken once a week or occasionally by people who visit the bustling metropolis for business, she said.
Balsom called air service an effective way for people to get in a full day of out-of-town meetings without having to face significant traffic woes on the highway there and back.
While conference calls have become the norm in today’s world, “there’s much to be said about face-to-face meetings” and the flights are another avenue to make that happen, she said.
“There’s still a lot of value in being able to gather people around a table to move issues forward. I think it does open up that door.”
Balsom believes the airline’s investment in a Niagara commuter service is related to the booming housing market the region has been experiencing in recent months.
More people are beginning to consider the area a viable option to commute from and the addition of air service — as well as GO Transit’s expansion to Niagara in 2021 — only further enhances that idea, she said.
The amount of time spent commuting is often a reflection of qualify of life, she said, and the ability to spend time with family instead of on the road can make a world of difference.
“If (taking a flight) means you’re back here at 4:45 (p.m.) and you don’t have to miss your kid’s soccer game, that matters to people.”
Niagara District Airport commission chairman Gary Murphy is confident the service will soar to success.
But if it doesn’t, it’s not going to cost the commission a dime.
“We’ve got great expectations for them,” he said, but “the airport doesn’t lose anything, other than revenue fees, in the event the airline decides to terminate. That’s business.”
A deal between the airline and the airport was negotiated to include a terminal fee, sitting at $5 per person per flight, a landing fee, which relates to the size and weight of the plane, and an airport improvement fee to help cover the cost of infrastructure enhancements.
If Greater Toronto Airways is successful in running one return flight per weekday, the airport is projected to make $27,000, Murphy said, adding the facility’s only impact will be minimal wear and tear.
If demand is great enough that a second flight is added, revenue will increase accordingly.
“There’s an escalator clause in there,” he said of the contract between the two parties, which will be up for renegotiation January 1 after initial demand is reviewed.
The airline’s online reservation system at www.flygta.com shows more than 30 seats on flights to and from Niagara have been booked since Tuesday’s launch.
Calls and e-mails to Greater Toronto Airways were not immediately returned.
“The more money we get coming in, the more it helps to take some of the burden off our funders, the three municipalities, to provide money,” Murphy said. “This is why we’re so in favour of a small airline starting out, seeing whether the market is there and watching them increase if the market is there.”
Niagara District Airport is owned and funded by Niagara-on-the-Lake, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls. Each community’s contribution is based on its population.
For the airport’s 2016 budget, Niagara-on-the-Lake contributed $23,884 toward operating costs and $15,362 toward capital; St. Catharines provided $203,793 toward operating and $130,992 toward capital; and Niagara Falls contributed $128,723 toward operating and $82,739 in capital.
Potential governance changes for both Niagara airports have been under review since 2015 and are expected to be discussed at municipal and regional councils later this year.