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Tuesday, December 6, 2022
Fuel costs, pilot shortage force FlyGTA to cancel Niagara service
FlyGTA stops flights from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the GTA. File

FlyGTA is no longer flying from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the GTA.

The short-hop flights, which allowed passengers to skip QEW and Toronto traffic, have been grounded by sky-high fuel prices and a shortage of pilots, the company says.

The FlyGTA service, promoted at less than $100 each way, was popular with many business people.

David Nissan, chief operating officer of FlyGTA Airlines, in an email to customers, said the company has been forced to cancel all its short-haul flights out of Niagara District Airport.

The Oct. 29 message says the FlyGTA website and the NOTL airport would be making an announcement “in the coming days,” but nothing has been posted yet.

Nissan could not be reached for comment.

In an interview, Niagara District Airport CEO Dan Pilon said FlyGTA has been a “valued partner” and he’s still awaiting formal notification about the airline’s plans.

However, other than a limited schedule of flights earlier this year, Pilon said FlyGTA has largely been inactive at the NOTL airport since the pandemic hit in March 2020.

In his message, Nissan told customers, some of whom had been inquiring about what was happening with the service, “Unfortunately, we are not able to continue flying this route.”

After reviewing costs and pricing options, Nissan said it’s not possible to run the Niagara-to-Toronto service without charging passengers $300 to $400, “which would not make sense for the given route. Anything less would be operating at major losses.”

“Truthfully, we have continued to provide the best service that we can through the years, and despite the hard COVID times, we gave the route another try,” he said.

But, at the beginning of October, “we had several pilots leave for other positions with big airlines, which came swift and affected our scheduled operations. On top of that, any government support has stopped and the costs of flying have more than tripled.”

“Fuel prices went from $1 per litre to $4+ per litre, along with inflated pricing for all costs,”  Nissan said.

The company is continuing to operate cargo and other services from Billy Bishop and Pearson airports in Toronto, as well as to Muskoka, Ottawa and other destinations.

Nissan noted he doesn’t know what the future holds for passenger flight in Niagara, “however, our company will be around when things normalize and maybe one day we are able to return to this route with a larger aircraft, or another airline may serve, which we would happily support.”

Niagara-on-the-Lake pharmacist Sean Simpson used FlyGTA a number of times pre-COVID to attend meetings in Toronto.

“It was an incredible service that saved me countless hours on the road and made commuting enjoyable,” he told The Lake Report.

“I think COVID caused enough of a shift to enable remote work that the demand for the service really dropped off. It’s too bad that it could not be sustained, as it really made Toronto much more accessible to people from the region,” he said.

“Hopefully, the new hovercraft service can fill the void.”

The Hoverlink cross-lake service is expected to launch in mid-2023.

Pilon credited FlyGTA with offering a “unique and innovative service” that was “continuing to build momentum.”

When the service started in 2017 it carried about 1,700 passengers annually but by 2019 had increased that total to around 6,000, he said.

“FlyGTA captures the imagination a little bit,” Pilon said.

“It was new. It was different. It was innovative. It was an 11-minute flight. It worked really well.”