France’s flagship airline said it will operate five weekly flights between Paris and Ottawa starting on June 27.
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In a decision local tourism and economic development officials hailed as an “amazing development,” Air France said Thursday it will launch direct flights between Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and Ottawa International Airport in June – the first direct route between Canada’s capital and Europe since 2020. France’s flagship airline said it will operate five weekly flights between Paris and Ottawa starting on June 27. The new service will run on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays using the carrier’s 224-seat Airbus A330-200 fleet. The move marks the return of transatlantic flights to Ottawa for the first time since Air Canada stopped direct routes to London and Frankfurt early in the pandemic after the federal government restricted international flights to airports in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. The announcement came as welcome news to officials at YOW, where passenger traffic plummeted from 5.1 million in 2019 to just 1.2 million two years later as COVID-19 wreaked havoc with the tourism industry. While nearly three million travellers passed through Ottawa’s terminal in 2022 as domestic travel ramped up, only 93,000 were passengers on international flights, down from nearly 430,000 in 2019. Airport officials hope Thursday’s announcement triggers a resurgence in international business and leisure travel to the National Capital Region. “Not only is Paris a long-standing popular destination for residents and business travellers in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, Air France’s global connectivity from Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport is world-renowned, with connections to Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, and beyond,” Mark Laroche, the Ottawa International Airport Authority’s president and CEO, said in a news release. “This is also welcome news for our visitor economy as Ottawa, the Outaouais region, and Canada at large will benefit from the inbound tourism opportunities this route creates.” According to Ottawa Tourism, Ottawa-Gatineau attracted 42,000 visitors from France in 2019, the second-highest total of any overseas country. And even though international visitors account for only about five per cent of all travellers to the capital, they have an outsized impact on the local economy. Overseas visitors stay an average of 12 days in the region and spend $1,000 per person, Ottawa Tourism says, compared with an average of 3.5 days and $500 in spending for visitors from the U.S. and 2.5 days and an average spend of $250 for Canadian visitors. “We know that international visitors, when they come to Ottawa, they stay longer and they also spend more,” Ottawa Tourism president and CEO Michael Crockatt told OBJ on Thursday. “They’re very beneficial for Ottawa’s economy. This is money that they’re choosing to (spend) here and support our businesses. It’s fantastic.” Crockatt said the new flights will help “reduce friction” for European travellers looking to visit Ottawa who previously had to connect through other Canadian hubs like Toronto or Montreal. “We know that any time a new flight like this is put into a market, it really does stimulate travel between the two cities and any connecting market,” he said. “It’s a smaller proportion of our (visitors), but this is an opportunity to help that grow.” Nina Kressler, the president and CEO of the Shaw Centre, said Air France’s move makes the nation’s capital a more appealing destination for European groups that previously might have ruled Ottawa out as a convention site because it was simply too difficult and costly to get to. “I’m over the moon,” said Kressler, whose downtown facility is the region’s second-busiest meeting and convention venue. “The fewer connections you have to make, the better. When people hear they don’t have to go through Montreal or they don’t have to go through Toronto to get to Ottawa, obviously that makes their travel logistics so much easier. “It’s opened up the gateway for us to certainly attract more business, particularly international business. What’s exciting for us is that (overseas) business generally comes in July and August when the convention centre has a little more down time.” Crockatt agreed, arguing the flights put Ottawa back on the map with European tour operators, convention-goers and other big-ticket customers such as international sports organizations. “It’s a tool in our belt to convince convention planners that Ottawa is a great place,” he said. “It really does give us some new opportunities to grow that international market, to grow those longer-stay travellers.” Traditionally Europe’s second-busiest airport, Charles de Gaulle is a “significant hub” that serves passengers from a wide catchment area, noted Invest Ottawa president and CEO Michael Tremblay. “A direct (flight) from Ottawa to Paris is a big deal,” Tremblay said. “It’s an amazing development for the city.” The head of the city’s largest economic development agency said Europe is a major market for Invest Ottawa’s portfolio companies. But Tremblay said the lack of direct flights from Ottawa to the continent limits local entrepreneurs’ ability to meet with investors face to face and makes companies based in Europe more hesitant to set up satellite operations in the National Capital Region. “These selections are often made based upon the ease of actually getting to a market,” he explained. “Business travel has been down, and we know that over time it’ll ramp up again. But when it comes to things like foreign direct investment decisions that companies are making, that direct access is a very significant thing.” While Tremblay and other officials said they hope Thursday’s announcement paves the way for direct flights to other European hubs such as London and Frankfurt, they stressed that the new route will remain part of Air France’s schedule only as long as it’s economically viable for the carrier to operate it. “The single best thing that people in the city should be doing is make sure you book flights on that one,” Tremblay said. “If you want to keep it, you’ve got to use it. It should drive some action from the other carriers, and I hope it does. Because these markets are important.” Crockatt said the new routes are another signal that Ottawa’s star is on the rise as a tourist destination. “We think that there are lots of opportunities to continue to build on our key markets, and a flight like this helps,” he said. “It helps bring a whole lot of people one flight closer to Ottawa than they were yesterday. We should be cautious with our optimism, but boy, I’m still pretty optimistic.”