The Hamilton Spectator

Swoop bringing some flights back to Hamilton

Ultralow-cost carrier pulled dozens of flights out in October during COVID to operate out of Pearson

- MATTHEW VAN DONGEN Matthew Van Dongen is a Hamiltonba­sed reporter covering transporta­tion for The Spectator. Reach him via email:

Low-cost airline Swoop says it is bringing more flights back to Hamilton — pandemic permitting — just months after relocating dozens of weekly trips to operate out of Toronto.

The WestJet subsidiary started 2020 with hopes to expand “ultralow-cost” service from John C. Munro Hamilton Internatio­nal Airport to more East Coast destinatio­ns. Instead, as air travel cratered during the COVID-19 pandemic, Swoop shrunk Hamilton-based service to three-times weekly flights to Edmonton and Abbotsford, B.C., and moved some service to Pearson airport in Toronto.

Pandemic restrictio­ns dropped all passenger traffic to John C. Munro by 66 per cent last year to about 330,000 people, compared to nearly a million travellers in 2019.

Swoop continues to lose “quite a bit of money,” said president Charles Duncan in an update to the city airport committee Thursday — but plans nonetheles­s call for “a steady diet of increases” to flights to and from Hamilton.

That assumes the pandemic eases through vaccinatio­n, rather than worsens. “It’s all going to depend on demand,” he said in an interview.

Duncan said new flights to Winnipeg are set to start in late April and — depending on provincial COVID rules — new trips are planned this summer to Kelowna, B.C., and Halifax.

Airport committee chair and city councillor Lloyd Ferguson noted the city was “deeply disappoint­ed” by the decision last fall for Swoop to relocate many flights to Toronto. He asked if all those flights would return


Duncan replied the hard-hit airline had to shrink its flying footprint across Canada during the pandemic, from 25 cities to just four. “We never left Hamilton and we never intended to,” he said.

The Swoop president said he expects domestic demand for leisure travel and “family visits” to rebound first this year. Right now, no internatio­nal flights are even allowed to land in Hamilton due to COVID border restrictio­ns.

But if those pandemic rules

ease, sun destinatio­n flights from John C. Munro will resume next winter.

Swoop has had an up-anddown ride since starting service in Hamilton in 2018.

Low fares attracted many passengers in 2019, but the airline also faced loud criticism for multiple flight cancellati­ons. A planned expansion of service to St. John’s, N.L., Moncton, N.B., and Charlottet­own was grounded by COVID.

Hamilton’s airport has so far fared better than others during the pandemic, said president Cathie Puckering at Thursday’s meeting, with revenues exceeding expenses by about $6 million despite COVID challenges.

The e-commerce boom associated with COVID lockdowns contribute­d to a 24 per cent spike in cargo by weight delivered through the airport. That includes unique pandemic deliveries like 100 flights from China to deliver COVID medical supplies and the first Pfizer shipment of vaccines into Canada.

The airport also saw a spike in helicopter traffic due a popularbut-controvers­ial pandemic service for snowbirds paying to avoid car traffic border closures.

 ?? THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR ?? Swoop has had an up-and-down ride since starting service at Hamilton’s airport in 2018.
THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR Swoop has had an up-and-down ride since starting service at Hamilton’s airport in 2018.

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