Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Air Canada to pull out of Orange County (SNA)

Air Canada has informed John Wayne Airport that it will abruptly end service to and from Orange County after its scheduled flights this Friday.

John Wayne Airport officials said they were notified recently that Air Canada would stop flying at the end of the month. A Register review of Air Canada's flight schedule shows the last non-stops will be Friday.

“Essentially, the route unfortunately did not meet our financial expectations and as a result we have decided to discontinue the service,” said Peter Fitzpatrick, an Air Canada spokesman.

The shutdown comes just six months after the service began April 8. The carrier operated a single non-stop flight each way between John Wayne Airport and Toronto's Pearson International Airport. The flights originally used a 120-seat Airbus A319. Air Canada has more recently flown a 93-seat Embraer 190.

The flights are the only non-stop international service to and from Orange County. Passengers who depart from Toronto cleared U.S. customs and immigration at Pearson International before boarding the plane.

In an e-mail, John Wayne spokeswoman Jenny Wedge said Air Canada had told airport officials that the route "is not economically viable."

"The initiation of service during difficult economic times – combined with the fact this was a new market and a new brand - made it particularly difficult for Air Canada to be successful with this service," Wedge wrote. "Passengers who may have flights to/from Orange County after October 31 should be hearing from Air Canada, or their travel agent, but in the meantime may want to contact the airline directly for changes to the schedule."

Air Canada is the second airline this year to announce it was leaving John Wayne Airport less than a year after starting service. Virgin America made a splashy entrance into the Orange County market in April 2009 only to announce in March 2010 that it was leaving to concentrate on service at Los Angeles International Airport. Virgin America gave the airport two months notice, ending flights May 26.

The quick departure of Air Canada from John Wayne Airport comes after a long courting period between the airport and airline. Air Canada rose to the top of John Wayne Airport's waiting list in 2008. It was offered a chance in January 2009 to start service as early as the spring 2009. But the bad economy apparently slowed the move. Airline observers at the time said Air Canada most likely wanted to start service to western Canada to tap into interest in the Winter Olympics that began in Vancouver in February 2010.

The airline brought in aircraft in the summer of 2008 and spring of 2009 to prove they could pass the airport's strict noise standards. But several months passed with no activity. John Wayne Airport officials said they were waiting for word from Air Canada and the airline declined to comment on its plans. When a new airport service plan was presented to county officials earlier this year, it once again included room for flights for Air Canada.

Finally, in late January of this year, Air Canada announced that it would start flying from John Wayne Airport. The destination was not, as expected, to a western Canada and it would not start until after the Olympics were over.

Instead, Air Canada said it would introduce one-flight-a-day service to and from Toronto in April. The announcement was buried in a long list of new services tied to Air Canada's plan to increase flights from the U.S. to Toronto to boost it as a gateway for flights to Europe.

Unlike Virgin America and Continental, who held high-profile ceremonies this year launching new service from Orange County, Air Canada began John Wayne Airport's only international service without fanfare – with little advertising or marketing.

John Wayne Airport currently has only one independent airline on its waiting list for potential new service, Canadian discount carrier WestJet. Two other airlines are on the list: AirTran, which recently announced it will merge with Southwest Airlines, and Horizon Air, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines. Both Southwest and Alaska Airlines already offer service from John Wayne Airport.

Air Canada will use codeshare flights with United Airlines and Continental Airlines to replace the non-stop service. Passengers will change planes and airlines in San Francisco, Denver, Chicago or Newark.

(Gary Warner - The Orange County Register)

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