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‘Use it or lose it’: New Ottawa-Paris route needs more than just excitement to take flight

Ottawa-Paris flight

International travellers in the nation’s capital will soon have an easier time getting abroad thanks to a new flight from Ottawa to Paris, France. 

Air France announced it will operate five weekly, non-stop flights between the capital cities beginning in June 2023 – a celebrated partnership for the Ottawa International Airport (YOW), which has not hosted a transatlantic flight since 2020.

Previously, the capital had stable transatlantic connections, with non-stop service to London-Heathrow, year-round, and Frankfurt on a seasonal basis. With challenges around finding the right sized, range-capable, aircraft to serve Ottawa-Gatineau’s market size – plus the impact of the pandemic, overseas routes from YOW were put on hold. 

“This new transatlantic connection – which will carry up to 224 passengers per flight – is a momentous one for the capital.” says Mark Laroche, president and CEO of the Ottawa International Airport Authority, as it marks a new relationship between YOW and Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport, a global hub serving approximately 90 countries worldwide, and over 200 destinations. 

“As one of the world’s leading airlines, we applaud Air France for capitalizing on the substantial demand for non-stop YOW-Europe service,” he says. “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, which is welcome news for our city.”

Details are in the data for Ottawa-Paris flight

While the long-awaited return of transatlantic travel to Ottawa is good news for travellers, the success of the route is key to maintaining the service, adds Laroche.

One of the Ottawa Airport’s biggest route development challenges is its proximity to Montreal and Toronto. Historically, many local residents have chosen to start their overseas trip from Montreal-Trudeau International Airport or even Toronto-Pearson Airport – inflating the traffic numbers in those regions at the expense of YOW.

Despite being local residents, 57 per cent of Paris-bound travellers from the Ottawa-Gatineau catchment are not reflected in YOW’s passenger volume because they started and ended their trip at another airport. This hurts the Airport Authority’s ability to attract future routes to YOW because the data understates true demand while over-inflating the nearby alternatives.

When it comes to Paris, pre-pandemic, the estimated true Ottawa-Gatineau to/from Paris market was over 80,000 annual passengers and unserved, a key selling point for Air France.

The success of the newfound partnership however is dependent on ticket sales, says Laroche.

“It’s a use it or lose it situation,” he adds. “This is our opportunity to demonstrate the acceptance of a foreign carrier operating long-haul out of YOW. Air France has commercial goals that need to be achieved, or the service goes.” 

Alternatively, adds Laroche, if the flight is a major success, it leaves the door wide open for other international players to see YOW-transatlantic as a viable route in their network.

Tapping into Ottawa’s tourism sector 

The Ottawa-Paris service is also welcome news for the city’s tourism industry, many of whom played a key role in securing the new partnership. 

Working closely with Ottawa Tourism, Destination Canada and Tourisme Outaouais, the Ottawa International Airport Authority was able to paint a picture of Ottawa-Gatineau as an attractive destination for inbound travellers to Canada from France, as well as encourage Air France to allow for ‘open jaw’ travel – a roundtrip itinerary that arrives in one city but departs from another.

Frequent flyers from France to cities such as Montreal will be encouraged to broaden their visit by extending their trip to Ottawa-Gatineau now that there is a direct route back home.

“There is huge potential to grow the visitor market in this area,” says Laroche. “That’s one of the areas Air France has been really cooperative on. They want to see Ottawa-Gatineau grow as an inbound travel destination because it will create a more stable, well balanced airline route.”

Early projections see Ottawa-Gatineau with a higher point of origin, but by working with destination marketers in France, tourism leaders in Ottawa, Gatineau, and Canada are counting on those numbers leveling out as the route gets underway and matures.

“This is 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,” adds Laroche. “We are excited and eager to see what kinds of success this partnership will bring.”