Routes conference: airports prepare their pitches for new service

As it prepares to host the Routes Americas conference, Quebec City airport is adding gates and amenities in a bid to attract new air services. (photo: YQB)

It seems only fitting that next week’s Routes Americas conference will finish on February 14, Valentine’s Day. After all, over three days, airports and airlines will get meet, do some speed dating, and see if they can develop a lasting relationship.

“We basically set up these 20-minute meeting blocks,” said James Bogusz, the President and CEO of Regina International Airport, “where we get to talk to the airlines about their future plans, what we can do to encourage them to encourage them to come to Regina.”

Borgusz will be one of 300 airport representatives making his best pitch to airlines when Quebec City plays host to the hemisphere’s most important aviation development conference February 12 – 14. It’s the first time airports, airlines and tourism organizations will meet in Canada to chart the future of air services.

For Regina, Bogusz will concentrate on restoring service to major hubs in the United States.

“Our focus at the Queen City has been to try to encourage an airline to look at flying year-round, daily non-stop service to a U.S. hub,” he said. “Obviously, one of my agenda items with them is to say ‘hey, you know what? You have no competitor to a U.S. hub.’

“We’re really actively pursuing somebody to go to Denver or Chicago or Minneapolis, one of those hubs.”

James Bogusz, Regina International Airport President and CEO

Regina used to have daily service to those giant U.S. hubs, but no more. Now, with a few exceptions, someone trying to go the United States from Regina has to pass through another Canadian airport first.

For host airport Québec City, the first priority will be Europe.

“Right now, there’s only one airline flying to Europe,” said spokesperson Laurianne Lapierre in an e-mail. “The people of Quebec and YQB want non-stop, year-round flights to a European hub. Quebec is a mature market for that type of flight, and we have the infrastructure to accommodate it.”

Quebec City is in the midst of a $277 million airport expansion and modernization. The airport will also focus on year-round service to U.S. hubs, and on fostering more domestic competition.

“It’s well known, Canadian travellers are not exposed to a competitive enough environment,” said Lapierre. “When we built our new terminal, YQB added capacity and space to foster competition between air carriers, which ultimately lowers air fares.”

Airport leaders come armed with reams of data to point out underserved opportunities. Some will also offer incentives to coax airlines out of their conservative mindsets, whether it be marketing help or breaks on landing and terminal fees for a start-up period.

Airlines are looking for routes that will fill their planes, and won’t break the bank if it doesn’t work.

“We call it testing the waters,” said Swoop airlines President and CEO Steven Greenway. “We put a schedule in for three or four months, see how it goes, if works, you keep on building on it. If it doesn’t work, you look at maybe changing the days of operation, maybe the time of operation. You’re testing and testing and testing until you get to a point where it works really well.”

“We are actively pursuing airlines to operate out of YQR,” said Bogusz, “but at the end of the day, it’s not the airport that makes the decisions. We are really all about marketing to the airline, pointing out opportunities.”