New co-operative airline plans Quebec launch

A new co-operative airline is coming together in Quebec to fill a void left by Air Canada, which recently announced it is cutting several regional routes.

Q400 aircraft
A new airline co-operative plans to use Q400 turboprops to serve regional routes in Quebec. Rick Radell Photo
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Treq (Coopérative de Transport Régional du Québec) said its mission is to offer an airline that “serves the regions of Quebec and allows their development.” It said the system had been deficient for “several decades.”

It’s the second Quebec airline launch announcement in less than a week. OWG, a subsidiary of Nolinor Aviation, is gearing up to fly passengers to sun destinations, beginning Nov. 1.

Treq wants residents of the regions to become shareholders in their own airline. Its fleet would comprise 78-seat Bombardier Q400s, although no further details were provided in terms of aircraft sourcing, number of aircraft or financing.

A number of elected officials and businessmen from several regions support the initiative, according to Treq founding member Serge Larivière, president of the Mont-Tremblant International Airport.

Treq “is a means more than an end. It’s a way for us to develop economically, for our tourism, for our social lives. There is a scope much larger than just another company establishing itself in the region.”

Larivière appears to have done his homework. “Quebec is last in its class in North America in terms of regional air transport. According to IATA (the International Air Transport Association), there are five times fewer passengers per capita in Quebec than Ontario. More Quebecers would fly if they were offered quality service at a reasonable price.”

He said a proposed $350 flight between Montreal and Îles-de-la-Madeleine (954 km), is about the same that Porter Airlines, WestJet and Air Canada charge for a similar route in Ontario.

“You have to admire their enthusiasm and at a certain point, Canadians will want to travel again,” said airline analyst Karl Moore, associate professor at McGill University. “They will need support from municipal and provincial governments to succeed, but there are a lot of unleased planes out there, so they should be able to get favourable lease rates. And you only need the 400s to be two-thirds full to make money.”

Moore suspects Air Canada cut routes to small towns knowing it would upset their mayors, thereby getting Ottawa’s attention. He noted the European Union airline industry gets massive government support as do U.S. carriers, leaving Canadian carriers at a disadvantage.

The co-operative has been in the works for several years, according to Larivière, led by Quebec aviation professionals who have taken the time to develop a credible business model. However, the support of various decision-makers and the Quebec government will be essential for the venture to succeed, he acknowledged.

Mont Tremblant
A number of regional destinations would be served, including Mont Tremblant. Kenneth I. Swartz Photo

The unnamed airline hopes to get support from the regions and the Quebec government to offer affordable fares. Its website listed potential prices for return trips of $199 to $276 depending on the season for Montreal to Quebec City and other short distances, $276 to $378 for medium distances like Montreal to Rouyn-Noranda and $318 to $425 for long distances like Montreal to Sept-Îles.

“I think we’ll have to arrive at the conclusion that the private airline model will always favour the shareholder to the detriment of the regions, and co-ops have always succeeded in fixing problems in Quebec,” Larivière said, adding that he doesn’t want to see a new private airline create a monopoly and hold regions hostage.

Treq plans to launch in September as Air Canada ends its regional service. From there, the co-op wants to take the time to build its organization and enter full service next summer.

Treq would serve 14 Quebec cities and partner with other airlines to provide connections to Toronto, the United States and international destinations.

 

 

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