This story was updated with comments from the Ottawa International Airport Authority.
Air Canada’s seasonal summer flights between Ottawa and Frankfurt will be replaced next year by reduced service from a fellow Star Alliance airline, a move the local airport authority says could in fact be a boon for tourism in the capital.
German air carrier Lufthansa said Tuesday it would schedule five weekly flights between Ottawa and Frankfurt from May to October next year. Meanwhile, Air Canada, which currently runs daily flights over roughly the same season, will drop its service.
Though the frequency of weekly flights is dropping, the German air carrier will bring a larger aircraft to the Ottawa airport. Lufthansa’s YOW-FRA service will use a 279-seat Airbus A340-300 on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Air Canada had employed a Boeing 767-300ER with 211 seats. Lufthansa’s flights will depart Ottawa at 5:50 p.m., arriving the next day at 7:15 a.m., with the Canada-bound flight leaving at 1:45 p.m. and landing in Ottawa at 4:15 p.m.
Overseas tourism could benefit
While the change in carriers will result in a net loss of weekly seats on the route, officials at the Ottawa International Airport Authority believe the Lufthansa service will be a boost for the local tourism economy.
Joel Tkach, the airport’s vice-president of business development and marketing, told OBJ Wednesday that 70 per cent of flights purchased on the YOW-FRA route are currently from the Ottawa side of the Atlantic. With Lufthansa adding Ottawa as one of its five “gateways” into Canada, Tkach said the German airline will also throw more of its marketing weight behind the YOW service, helping to entice European travellers and bring the number of inbound fliers closer in line with the outbound traffic.
While he doesn't expect the ratio to hit 50-50, Tkach said the shift to a European carrier will bring more of the continent’s tourism dollars to the Ottawa economy. He also noted that international traffic tends to be “higher yield,” with overseas visitors staying longer and spending more at their destinations.
While domestic traffic has grown steadily in recent years, Ottawa airport’s international passenger volumes have mostly declined: overseas traffic stood at 442,228 in 2013 but dropped down to 378,431 in 2017; last year’s figures showed a slight uptick year-over-year.
Tkach said YOW would always love to offer new international destinations, but the airport has to be careful about adding new routes that aren’t already sufficiently served by the surrounding travel hubs.
“We're in a unique operational environment being between Toronto and Montreal. And as a result, we have to be extremely strategic as to what routes fit our market best,” Tkach said, adding there was “nothing imminent” to announce regarding new transatlantic routes.
Air Canada also announced this week it intends to increase the capacity of its flights between Ottawa and London’s Heathrow airport. The airline said it will deploy a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner starting next spring for its daily service to the U.K. travel hub. The Dreamliner features 255 seats, an upgrade from 211 in the previous service, and includes a premium economy section.
“This was a real win for us, because that's a difficult aircraft for them to schedule,” Tkach said. “Ultimately, what it means is it's the right size aircraft without getting too large.”
Transborder route changes
The Air Canada-Lufthansa announcements come after United Airlines announced earlier this week it will cancel service between Ottawa and Newark next spring as it resumes its direct flights between YOW and Chicago (ORD).
The United cancellation didn’t come as a surprise to Tkach, who noted that with Air Canada running express service to the New York hub, its fellow Star Alliance partner would likely avoid doubling up on the route. While United kept the service on as a connection to its Star Alliance hub in the absence of its Chicago route, Newark will become less of a priority when O’Hare service resumes.
“We always had a hunch that New York was going to disappear as soon as Chicago O'Hare got back online,” Tkach said.
He noted that the YOW-ORD service, which was temporarily suspended in June but will return next March, caused significant disruption only to roughly half the passengers – the ones who were travelling to Chicago as their final destination. The other half, who were just laying over at O’Hare en route to other U.S. locations, are likely transferring through Toronto and Washington without much hassle.
Without the three daily 50-seat flights from Ottawa to Chicago, therefore, Tkach estimated that YOW is seeing a disruption of 75 passengers per day.