When Air France flight AF 328 from Paris touched down in Ottawa Tuesday afternoon, it marked the return of transatlantic travel to the Canadian capital.
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When Air France flight AF 328 from Paris touched down in Ottawa Tuesday afternoon, it marked the return of transatlantic travel to the Canadian capital. The new non-stop route between Paris-Charles de Gaulle and the Ottawa International Airport (YOW) is the only direct flight between Ottawa and any European destination since 2020, when COVID-19 wiped out the city’s international routes. While some flights to U.S. and Caribbean airports have returned to YOW, Paris is the first European destination to take flight after previous routes to London and Frankfurt did not resume post-pandemic. “This is indeed an important moment for two capitals that will be linked directly,” said Michel Miraillet, France’s ambassador to Canada. “Passengers will no longer have to take a car, train, bus or plane to get to Montreal, to go to Toronto, then connect with Paris.” For leaders in business and finance, it’s a route that offers ample opportunities, he said. “Paris has taken up a crucial position in Europe, not only in terms of tourism, but also in politics and business,” said Miraillet. “While Paris has always been a tourist destination and the city of romance, it is also Europe’s leading economic and financial capital.” For the past four years, France has been a top destination in Europe for investors, ahead of the U.K. and Germany, Miraillet mentioned. Last year, Paris overtook London as the European Union’s leading stock market. Miraillet added that, for Ottawa tourists, politicians and business travellers, Paris is an ideal hub to connect to the rest of Air France’s overseas network, including destinations in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. And leaders in those regions will be connected to opportunities in Ottawa in return, he said. “This new direct link, in conjunction with the Ottawa federal government bodies, the Canadian parliament and stakeholders from various sectors of the economy are strengthening the national capital’s status as a destination for political and business leaders from both countries,” said Miraillet. Michael Crockatt, president and CEO of Ottawa Tourism, said the new route will play a key role in continued efforts to revitalize travel in the city. “Regardless of the reasons for travel, we know that tourism and hospitality businesses in our community are ready to warmly welcome visitors,” he said. While domestic tourism has picked up in Ottawa since the pandemic, international travel continues to lag and is expected to do so for the foreseeable future. Crockatt said reintroducing transatlantic travel is a much-needed boost. “Historically, France has been one of our top five international markets for visitors in Ottawa,” said Crockatt. “With this new air access, we anticipate more French and more European visitors than ever before. This is great news, especially because international visitors in our region tend to stay longer and tend to spend more time in our community than domestic travellers do.” In February, Ottawa International Airport Authority chief executive Mark Laroche told OBJ that Air France has suggested it could add more flights to its Ottawa schedule if the customer demand is there. “It all depends on the response,” he said. “(Airbus aircraft) are extremely expensive assets and so they can lose a lot of money very fast. If there’s not sufficient response from the market, you lose (routes) very quickly. It’s very hard to get back.” Laroche said talks between the carrier and YOW began heating up in late 2022. Laroche noted that Air France CEO Ben Smith, a Canadian who previously served as Air Canada’s chief operating officer, was familiar with Ottawa’s tourism industry from his days as the operator of a retail corporate travel agency in the 1990s. “He knows the market well,” Laroche said. “That’s an (advantage) when you don’t have to convince the CEO of an airline of the potential of a market. “Obviously, Air France saw an opportunity. This is very late in the season to announce a summer route, so they reacted to this opportunity quickly, and good on them. We’re super happy to have them.” Laroche said in February that he’s optimistic that routes to vital European hubs like London and Frankfurt will be restored to the airport’s schedule in the not-too-distant future. “Success begets success,” he said. “What we’re saying is that Ottawa has an appetite for more direct connections and, if Air France is successful, there may be other interest from Air France or from other airlines. It’s ultimately their decisions and it’s based on facts and evidence of a positive market response.” Ottawa is Air France’s fifth Canadian destination, following Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Quebec City. The airline will operate five flights a week between Ottawa and Paris, on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.