General aviation

Connect Airlines to launch premium services from Toronto Billy Bishop

Connect Airlines plans to Toronto’s city centre airport from destinations in the U.S. northeast and midwest

Connect Airlines
An artist’s rendering of the new Connect Airlines Dash 8-400 (supplied).

Showing surprising confidence considering the context, a Boston-based charter has announced plans to launch Connect Airlines. Its mission is simple, to connect business centres in the U.S. northeast and midwest with downtown Toronto.

The new carrier is the brainchild of Waltzing Matilda Aviation, with a plan to start operations from Billy Bishop Airport in October.

“We are passionate about how aviation brings people, cultures and business together,” said WMA Chief Executive Officer John Thomas. “Especially in these challenging times, we are committed to delivering the world’s most rewarding premium travel experience with safety, service, convenience and reliability.

Connect will use a De Havilland Dash 8-400. The type is already a regular sight at the airport. Executives say their plans show confidence that short-haul business travel will return. They plan to keep costs low by focussing on digital technology with minimal fixed costs.

The idea also, in a way, turns the concept of a hub on its head. While Connect will be a U.S. carrier, its main service, at least initially, will be into Canada, with a particular focus on Toronto. The arrangement would be a first for Billy Bishop, though Porter, which has been grounded for more than a year, flies to the U.S. from the airport in normal times.


Challenges remain

While the plan may be ambitious, significant challenges are in the way. First and foremost, the Canada-U.S. border remains closed. Canadians can fly south, but Americans are generally banned from Canada. On top of that, anyone entering the country must quarantine for two weeks, with limited exceptions. The rules have severely curtailed air travel between the two countries.

The idea also reignites the push for a U.S. pre-clearance facility at Billy Bishop. The idea has been floating around for a few years. Pre-clearance is in place at a number of Canadian airports. It allows people flying from Canada to clear U.S. customs before they get on the plane. It generally makes for a speedier and smoother border control process.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has written to the Canadian government, asking for pre-clearance at Billy Bishop to be part of a COVID recovery plan.

“Once the border re-opens and travel volumes rise, the construction of a new USCBP facility at Billy Bishop Airport will have several benefits,” the Chamber wrote. “To begin, it will provide Ontario businesses in all sectors and Ontarians across the province with easier connections to and from US destinations. By making travel more efficient, this could encourage more cross-border business travel and facilitate additional opportunities between businesses and entrepreneurs in Ontario and the United States.”

Billy Bishop handled close to three million passengers in 2019, before the pandemic grounded all of its passenger services. The agency that runs Billy Bishop is trying to find a private-sector operator, to maintain the airport’s viability.

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Categories: General aviation