New Pilots

Ultra-low-cost carrier NewLeaf planning flights from Hamilton

2016 01 05

By Steve Arnold

Canada's latest airline will unveil its plans for flights out of Hamilton airport on Wednesday.

That's when Dean Dacko, chief commercial officer of NewLeaf Travel, the country's new ultra-low-cost air carrier, will unveil the company's plans for making Hamilton one of its hubs.

Details of the announcement remain a closely guarded secret, but in a news release airport officials promise "NewLeaf plans to revolutionize the Canadian travel market."

NewLeaf's bare-bones website promises its service will feature "No more extra costs for things you don't want" and "You pay for your seat and the rest is up to you."

Wednesday's announcement will include details on non-stop routes, pricing and booking.

NewLeaf announced its interest in the city in June, saying it would make its headquarters in Winnipeg with bases in Hamilton and Kelowna.

Ultra-low-cost carriers — also called no-frills or budget airlines — offer lower fares, making up for lower ticket prices by charging for extras such as food, priority boarding and baggage. The largest such operator is United States-based Southwest Airlines.

Aircraft and crews for the NewLeaf flights will be supplied by Kelowna-based Flair Airlines.

Ultra-low-cost carriers are new to Canada's aviation industry and Hamilton airport executives have been keen to get at least one located here as a boost to their long-cherished dream of turning the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport into a passenger destination.

While they have long argued that 2 million people live within an hour's drive of the airport, its passenger history has been one of soaring hopes followed by bitter disappointment as more than 20 airlines have come and gone through the facility.

Passenger traffic peaked in 2003 at about 1 million when the airport was the eastern hub for WestJet, before the airline moved the hub to Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport. In 2014 it handled 332,000 passengers.

The only year-round scheduled service from Hamilton now is a single daily WestJet return flight to Calgary. That's in addition to seasonal service to vacation spots.

NewLeaf is headed by Jim Young, a former vice-president and chief marketing officer at Denver-based Frontier Airlines who also served for six months as president of upstart Canada Jetlines Ltd.