Upgrades for NOTL airport
Flying about 2,000 feet above the calm water of Lake Ontario, traffic gridlock on the busy highway to the west seems a distant memory.
It takes about 90 minutes to drive roughly 120 km along the QEW between Niagara and Toronto.
Aboard a FlyGTA plane, that trip takes 12 to 13 minutes.
It’s the shortest commuter flight in North America, said Chris Nowrouzi, FlyGTA Airline’s president and chief executive officer.
A little more than a year since the company began offering scheduled commuter services, Nowrouzi announced plans to build new facilities at Niagara District Airport in Niagara-on-the-Lake, while also offering new flight destinations for its passengers.
“Our team is committed to a large-scale project with Niagara District Airport,” Nowrouzi said during a media conference Tuesday at Billy Bishop Airport in downtown Toronto.
That project includes a 3,600-square-metre maintenance hangar to be constructed next year, including a luxury terminal featuring “crew rest areas, planning areas, and everything that goes along with it,” he said.
“It will be very high-end luxury.”
When that initial facility is completed, Nowrouzi said the company hopes to begin construction of a second large hangar at the airport, part of a 50-year lease the commuter airline signed with the airport commission earlier this year.
The new facilities will help support additional services offered by the airline that currently carries up to eight passengers at a time between Niagara District and Billy Bishop airports — at a cost of $99 per one-way trip, tax included.
On Nov. 6, scheduled commuter flight services will be offered to Region of Waterloo International Airport, as well as Lake Simcoe Regional Airport in Barrie.
Flights between Toronto and those destinations are expected to take less than 20 minutes, and cost $129 each, tax included.
And before the end of the year, the company plans to offer scheduled service to London, Ont., International Airport as well.
Nowrouzi said the airline is investing in new aircraft to support the increased services, with plans to buy several planes to complement its existing fleet of eight passenger planes. Although he described it as a substantial investment, Nowrouzi wouldn’t say how much his company plans to spend on the project.
But he is confident the numbers will add up, judging by the success his company has seen in Niagara.
Nowrouzi said demand quickly grew for the commuter flights his company began offering in September 2016, and the airline responded by doubling the flights between Niagara and Toronto.
And despite the $99 price tag, he said the commuter flights “make sense” once the cost of fuel and parking is added up, along with the time spent driving along the highways.
“A lot of our flights are full these days. It’s great,” Nowrouzi said.
Niagara-on-the-Lake Lord Mayor Pat Darte said the commuter flights are a “huge benefit” to corporate executives who might need a fast trip across the lake. But the service is also inexpensive enough that individuals might use it, too, for trips to Rogers Centre, for instance.
“You can enjoy the whole day instead of spending four or five hours in traffic,” Darte said.
Niagara Region Chairman Alan Caslin called the company’s services as well as its plans for the local airport “a game-changer in Niagara.”
“It’s a great enabler for business,” he said while visiting Billy Bishop Airport for the announcement.
For people travelling to an important meeting or event, Caslin said “counting on the highway is just not an option anymore, when you’re talking about the amount of traffic and the uncertainty of what you can expect in terms of delay, whether for construction or accidents.”
“Having a way to get to Toronto in 15 minutes — and then on to other destinations in 20 minutes or less — makes a whole lot of sense for many business people who make the occasional trip when it’s important to be there and it’s necessary to get there quickly,” Caslin said.
In addition to the enhancements planned by FlyGTA, the Niagara District Airport Commission is planning significant improvements to the airport, too. Airport commission chairman and Niagara-on-the-Lake town Coun. Terry Flynn said plans call for more than 70 airplane hangars to be added to the facility designed to accommodate different-sized aircraft, as well as a new Nav Canada air traffic control tower, communication towers and a solar farm.
Those additions will likely be added in 2019.
“We do have a lot of land right now that’s sitting there that can be built on. That’s where we are now. We’re on that planning stage,” Flynn said.
The FlyGTA announcement was welcome news to representatives of communities being added to the airline’s destinations.
Region of Waterloo Coun. Tom Galloway said it took him two-and-ahalf hours by car to get to Billy Bishop Airport for the announcement.
“It could have been 15 minutes — 10 times less than what it actually took us,” he said. “I’m very confident this service is going to be well-utilized.”
Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman called the plans “a shining example of how innovation within this industry can deliver new service that helps provide connectivity in southern Ontario.”
Jimmy Nowrouzi, FlyGTA Airline's chief financial officer, speaks to his son, company president and chief executive officer Chris Nowrouzi, standing beside one of their commuter planes after announcing Tuesday Niagara District Airport enhancements and...
Niagara-on-the-Lake Lord Mayor Pat Darte and Niagara District Airport Commission vice-chair Robin Garrett are pictured aboard a FlyGTA plane preparing for landing at the Niagara-on-the-Lake airport on Tuesday.