Air Canada is deploying its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft on the Toronto-Dubai route, with service offered three times a week. Air Canada Photo
Air Canada’s entry into the Toronto-Dubai route has intrigued industry observers who are watching the country’s largest carrier compete against Emirates Airline.
Air Canada began offering tickets on the route last November, deploying the 298-seat Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Each airline offers their rival services three times a week.
Emirates started the route in October 2007, when it flew the 360-seat Boeing 777. The foreign carrier, owned by the Dubai government, introduced the 489-seat Airbus A380 on the Toronto-Dubai service in June 2009.
While Emirates has the advantage at its Dubai hub, Air Canada holds the upper hand at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
“Air Canada’s international business class and premium economy services compete effectively with the best airlines. Air Canada is a fantastic option for business travellers, including small and medium enterprises, and particularly for U.S. cities that do not have non-stop service to Dubai,” Air Canada vice-president of global sales Duncan Bureau said in a statement to Skies.
An important marketing tool for Air Canada is the ability to provide Aeroplan points and even try a bit of patriotism on the estimated 40,000 expatriates from Canada living and working in the United Arab Emirates.
“The Maple Leaf still has a certain significance. There is still a bit of that national pride,” said Nina Slawek, co-founder of online travel trade publication OpenJaw.com. For Air Canada’s inaugural flight from Toronto to Dubai on Nov. 3, 2015, Slawek participated in a familiarization tour in Dubai for travel agents to help promote the new route.
She noted that Dubai is an ideal jumping-off point for Southeast Asia, but there is also healthy demand for Dubai as a place for business and leisure travellers, notably in what the industry calls origin and destination traffic.
“It’s part of Air Canada’s overall expansion, launching new international destinations. Air Canada wants to become a major international player, so you really can’t do that unless you’re in a place like Dubai,” said Slawek.
Robert Kokonis, president of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc., said it remains to be seen how well Air Canada performs on the new route: “Is there enough point-to-point traffic and a little bit of connecting traffic with partners like Thai Airways, beyond Dubai?”
He notes that Emirates has interline agreements with WestJet Airlines Ltd. at Pearson and with Porter Airlines Inc., based at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.
“If there is enough point-to-point traffic, maybe Air Canada can make a go of it three times a week,” Kokonis said in an interview. “The economics of the Boeing 787-9 aircraft are good from the standpoint of fuel consumption and maintenance costs.”
In the fall of 2010, there were tense relations between Canada and the United Arab Emirates. Since then, relations have improved, though the Dubai-based airline has long complained about having too little access to Canada in country-to-country aviation pacts.
When Emirates boosted its Boeing 777 flight frequencies between Seattle and Dubai last summer, it said one of its goals is to lure passengers from the Vancouver region to drive to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for what is now twice-daily service to Dubai.
Kokonis wonders about the impact of Air Canada’s Toronto-Dubai route on its other transatlantic traffic. For instance, Air Canada and its Star Alliance partner Lufthansa have service between Toronto and Frankfurt, where Lufthansa has connecting service to destinations such as India.
Emirates and Air Canada see an attractive market for a range of customers from executives to vacationers.
Some travellers will notice Emirates has slightly roomier seats in economy class, Kokonis said. Emirates has allotted a large number of economy seats to account for budget-minded passengers who connect through Dubai in order to fly to India.
Air Canada offers three classes in its 787-9 Dreamliner cabin–30 lie-flat seats in business, 21 seats in premium economy and 247 seats in economy. Emirates has three categories in its A380 cabin, though it has first class that features 14 private suites and an onboard “shower spa.” The other two classes at Emirates are 76 lie-flat seats in business and 399 seats in economy.
Kokonis said Air Canada has a competitive offering with lie-flat pods in business class at the front of the plane, compared with the same category on the upper level on an Emirates A380.
“Head-to-head, Air Canada has fewer business-class seats than Emirates. But Air Canada’s new business-class seating in the Dreamliner is very good. It’s strong value for the money. What a superb change at Air Canada versus its old business class in the Boeing 777, for example,” he concluded.