Ultra low-cost carrier Swoop Airlines says it will not make a decision on a third Canadian crew base until near the end of the year. President Steven Greenway made the comment as he reflected on the company’s first year of service in an interview with Western Aviation News.
Swoop currently has crew bases in Hamilton, Ontario and Edmonton, and Greenway has mused in the past about establishing a base in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where Swoop maintains a substantial presence, operating 41 departures every week this summer to points in Canada and the United States.
“It is a virtual base, we have roughly the equivalent of two aircraft based there by the end of the year that fly in and out of there both domestically and internationally,” said Greenway. “The only thing we don’t have is a crew base there yet.”
Abbotsford caters particularly to low-cost airlines wanting a cheaper alternative to Vancouver International Airport. Greenway has praised the airport’s operations, both from a cost point of view (the airport is one of only two in Canada that does not charge an Airport Improvement Fee), and for its operational efficiency.
Abbotsford is located in the Fraser Valley, about 80 km inland from Vancouver.
“What we’re doing is assessing how our recruitment settles. We’re weary of going into destinations and not being able to recruit sufficient crews to be able to crew aircraft,” he said. “Flight attendants are never an issue, it’s more the pilots, and just making sure that you’re recruiting in centres that people want to live in.”
Similar pressures prompted rival low-cost carrier Flair Airlines to move its headquarters from Kelowna, British Columbia to Edmonton, where it has access to a larger population base to recruit potential staff.
Almost 38% of Swoop’s flying is done between Abbotsford, Edmonton, and Hamilton.
“At the moment our focus has been on Hamilton and Edmonton, which has been going quite successfully,” said Greenway. “But Hamilton has the advantage because it’s basically Southern Ontario or Toronto metropolitan area, so you have a huge population base, and people like operating out of a secondary airport because there’s less congestion, less hassle.”
Abbotsford expects to handle more than a million passengers this year at the city-owned airport, and in January opened a major expansion of the passenger hold room, baggage hall, and customs area. It is spending millions of dollars to make the airport more accessible, by twinning the road leading to the terminal from the region’s main highway.
Greenway says even if Swoop decides to establish a base in Abbotsford, there won’t be any movement until the new year.
“We’ll probably try to make a decision on it toward the end of the year with something implemented if there is anything toward the start of next year,” he said.