Could an airline be soon cleared for landing at Brandon Airport?

Porter Airlines Dash 8 Q400 cabin (© GrumpyDiver; click for source)

More than a decade has passed since Brandon Airport hosted a major Canadian airline, but that hasn’t killed western Manitoba’s hope of eventually landing something better than a once-a-day air taxi service to Winnipeg and the occasional charter flight.

Brandon’s latest brush with a major airline was in 2001, when WestJet briefly tested out the market during the busier summer months.

Since then, Brandon’s odds of supporting a major airline usually looked grim. Air routes typically follow business and government traffic, and that all pointed toward Winnipeg: so close by that flying would save little time or hassle. (Red Deer, a substantially larger city, suffers the same problem due to its proximity to both Calgary and Edmonton.)

Brandon’s ties to other cities were too tenuous to support airline service.  The business travelers who were willing to pay a premium to stick to a schedule — what the airlines refer to as high-yield traffic — were few and far between. The price-sensitive leisure travelers who buy their tickets during seat sales — known in the industry as low-yield traffic — would happily go to Winnipeg to catch their flights if it meant saving $100. So why bother flying to Brandon at all?

Alas, Brandon’s odds of landing a much-wanted airline might be getting better, thanks to the energy boom in western Manitoba.

As long as Brandon had few economic ties to any city other than Winnipeg, the dearth of premium-fare passengers killed hopes of sustaining airline service.

Western Manitoba’s growing energy-based economy, however, holds out the hope that Brandon might eventually support nonstop service to Calgary, Canada’s energy and resource extraction capital.

This hope is based on what happened across the border in June 2010, when United Express launched nonstop regional jet service from its Denver hub to Minot, N.D. based on demand for better service to the heart of North Dakota’s booming energy sector.

Mining, oil and gas extraction was the star performer of the Manitoba economy in 2010, its contribution to the provincial economy growing 11 percent over 2009 levels while most other industries grew at the more typical two to three percent.

There are two other reasons for Brandon to get its hopes up.

The first is the recent installation of an Instrument Landing System, which is an important selling point with airlines. An Instrument Landing System, or ILS for short, allows an airliner to follow a radio beam straight in to the runway. This allows for a successful landing in low-visibility conditions, where an aircraft might otherwise be forced to make an expensive diversion to another airfield until the weather improves.

The second is the development of the Canadian-built Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop. This relatively new aircraft, which typically carries 70 or 74 passengers, can fly 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles) nonstop. That’s more than enough to fly from Brandon to Calgary, with enough fuel remaining to divert to Edmonton or Saskatoon if they can’t land in Calgary for some reason.

The Q400 burns so little fuel per mile that, with the right mix of business and leisure passengers, a flight can be profitable with 40 passengers aboard. A 70-seat regional jet flying the same route, by comparison, would almost certainly lose money with only 40 passengers aboard.

Air Canada Express started using Q400s on eastern routes in 2011, with the aircraft likely to start showing up in the western provinces as older equipment is retired. WestJet is said to be considering the Q400 for routes that cannot be served profitably by their Boeing 737s, which seat 119 to 166 passengers, depending on model.

Even if WestJet orders the Q400, service to Brandon is no sure bet. The city was not even mentioned by CEO Gregg Saretsky when he recently rattled off a list of cities — all in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta or B.C. — that WestJet might eventually serve.

Nevertheless, things are looking better for Brandon and its neighbouring communities than they have been in a long time.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

2 Responses to Could an airline be soon cleared for landing at Brandon Airport?

  1. Dave says:

    Corporate jets land in Brandon but thats not for the public.

  2. W. Krawec says:

    People in Brandon must feel like they get a raw deal when it comes to aviation. Even though Red Deer doesn’t have a big airport, it still has it great by comparison – a little over an hour’s drive to get to two large international airports with a plethora of direct flights to a wide range of destinations. Brandonites, however, drive 2 hours to YWG where they inevitably face layovers if they’re going anywhere beyond the small handful of cities that you can fly directly to out of Winnipeg’s airport. I suppose that Brandon does have an alternative in Minot (I know people there who have made the drive south to take vacation trips on Allegiant) but at 3 hours away it isn’t terribly convenient.

    I guess Winnipeg benefits from this setup in that Brandonites who fly places add to YWG’s passenger count, but I have to admit I hope that Jazz or WJ (once they adds some smaller aircraft to their fleet) institutes a flight to YYC just to make their lives a little easier!

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