Class act | Monocle

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It’s a crisp morning and Porter Airlines is unveiling a new addition to its fleet of narrow-body, short-haul aircraft at an airstrip in Toronto. This is the first of 50 E195-E2s that Porter has ordered from Brazil-based aerospace manufacturer Embraer. Robert Deluce started Porter in Toronto in 2006 and his son, Michael, is now its CEO, overseeing the most ambitious expansion of a Canadian airline’s inventory in years.

Delivery of the new fleet is expected to be complete by late 2024, with the option of 50 more. The 132-seat E195-E2s will fly from Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal and Halifax. Porter’s new routes will increase its presence in eastern Canada’s major cities, as well as those in the US – potentially upsetting the balance of Canada’s aviation sector, where flag-carrier Air Canada and Calgary-based Westjet have long been dominant.

Michael Deluce tells Monocle about Porter’s expansion and why he hopes that elevating Economy Class travel will make his company unique among the major North American carriers. 

Why did Porter choose the E195-E2?
It’s highly efficient, with the lowest fuel consumption of all narrow-body aircraft. It’s also the quietest. It fits with our desire to offer a modern, comfortable product while respecting noise and sustainability issues. Porter already has the lowest environmental footprint of any Canadian airline; our E195-E2s will complement our Dash 8-400 fleet. People can make a real choice between the airlines that they want to travel with.

What do you hope to achieve with the new fleet?
These aircraft fly 2,600 nautical miles [4,815km], allowing us to operate from Toronto and fly as far as Barbados or San Francisco. We’re leaps and bounds above our competitors when it comes to customer satisfaction with our existing product. There has been a drive among North American airlines to reduce costs and that has had a significant effect on economy travellers. It has created a two-tier environment: you have a great experience if you’re a premium passenger but economy is treated differently. Our approach is to bring enjoyment back to economy. Porter will elevate travel for everyone.

“Our approach is to bring enjoyment back to economy. Porter will elevate travel for everyone”

How can cabin configuration help to enhance the onboard experience
Aircraft for economy travel across North America are almost entirely in a three-by-three configuration. A third of passengers have middle seats. I can confidently say that no one likes a middle seat. We’ll be the only airline in North America not to have them. The E195-E2 has a two-by-two configuration throughout, providing more space and comfort. 

Why upend Economy Class rather than the higher-margin classes?
Ninety per cent of travellers are in Economy Class, not Business Class. It’s a segment of the market that is widely dissatisfied with what’s available. We’ll be delivering an enjoyable economy experience that people will pay a fair price for; we have demonstrated that it’s possible over the past 17 years. Now there’s an opportunity to disrupt the entire segment, which is the largest portion of air travel in North America.

Is it hard to scale up the details-driven service that Porter is known for?
The E195-E2’s fuel efficiency helps to lower costs, letting us invest in service and give something back to the consumer. It also allows us to have competitive fares. We’ll continue to offer all of our amenities: complimentary beer, wine served in glassware and premium snacks. And we’ll be Canada’s first airline to offer free, fast-streaming wi-fi to all passengers. On longer flights we’ll have a selection of fresh, healthy, eco-packaged meals that will set us apart.

You are expanding your presence at Toronto Pearson. Will that affect your service at Billy Bishop Airport?
Billy Bishop is one of the world’s best-located urban airports. It is 3km away from Toronto’s financial and entertainment districts, and is popular with Torontonians. But it’s a regional airport. The range of aircraft that can operate from there is limited to about 1,300km.

What changes have you noticed since Canada’s air-travel restrictions were lifted?
There is a lot of pent-up demand. There was a significant shutdown of air travel in Canada. The effect was greater here than in many other places. Leisure travel is much stronger than pre-pandemic levels; the recovery of business travel has been slower but it’s on a good trajectory. There might be fundamental shifts in demand but if, say, hybrid working remains the norm or there’s a long-term shift towards working just four days a week in the office, there will still be more opportunities for people to work remotely, to travel and to experience different parts of the world. Over the coming months, we’ll announce additional destinations that will broaden our reach: across Canada and the US, then eventually to Mexico and the Caribbean.

Porter in numbers

Porter employs 2,500, expected to rise to between 5,000 and 6,000 by the end of 2024.

As of February 2023, Porter’s fleet consists of 29 De Havilland Canada DHC-8s (“Dash 8s”) and 10 Embraer E195-E2s. A further 40 of the latter will be delivered by 2024.

Porter serves 18 locations in Canada, such as Ottawa, Montréal and Mont-Tremblant, as well as four international airports including Chicago Midway and Newark Liberty International in the US.

New in 2023:
There will be four daily routes from Toronto Pearson to Ottawa and Montréal, three daily flights to Vancouver and two daily flights to Edmonton, Calgary and Halifax. Additional routes expected in the future will serve San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta and Nassau in the Bahamas.

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