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Air Canada set to unveil Express regional service

Bombardier Q400 aircraft.


Air Canada Express, a regional service between Toronto island airport and Montreal, will be officially unveiled Wednesday.

Air Canada chief commercial officer Ben Smith will show off the new name on a Bombardier Q400 turboprop at a news conference in Montreal.

The event, at Sky Regional Airline Inc.'s Montreal hangar, will be held to promote Air Canada's return to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport this Sunday.

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Last year, Air Canada subcontracted Toronto-based Sky Regional to fly 15 round-trip flights daily between Billy Bishop and Montreal's Trudeau Airport. Five Bombardier Q400s are part of the Sky Regional fleet for the Toronto-Montreal service.

This Sunday's flights will mark the return to Billy Bishop by Air Canada, which previously used Jazz Air LP for the short-haul route before a terminal company headed by Porter Airlines Inc. chief executive officer Robert Deluce ousted Jazz from the island airport in February, 2006.

Mr. Deluce has said Porter will survive the competition because the privately owned carrier still controls the lion's share of takeoff and landing slots at Billy Bishop.

A 22-page section in a tentative labour agreement for Air Canada's unionized pilots included "scope" provisions to give Air Canada the right to deploy Sky Regional's non-union pilots to relaunch service at Billy Bishop, but a ratification vote on that pact has been cancelled.

In the absence of any new contract, Sky Regional is breaching current union rules, but the new Billy Bishop flights will go ahead as scheduled because ACPA will await further labour talks before deciding whether to file a union grievance about Sky Regional, said the Air Canada Pilots Association.

Under the tentative agreement, Air Canada would have effectively gained the ability to further restrain flying by Chorus Aviation Inc., the parent of Halifax-based Jazz.

Sky Regional, headed by industry veteran Russell Payson, would have been classified as a "Tier 2" carrier, breaking Jazz's "monopoly" in that category, according to a backgrounder by ACPA, which represents more than 3,000 Air Canada pilots.

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Some of the pilots are worried that the Air Canada Express brand will expand and gradually eat into some "mainline" and Jazz routes, slowly erasing the Jazz brand. Already, "Tier 3" carriers such as Central Mountain Air and Air Georgian do lower-traffic routes to smaller centres.

Air Canada's relaunch at Billy Bishop is being accompanied by a marketing blitz from May 9 to June 10, including prize giveaways such as free trips on the main carrier, up to 50,000 Aeroplan miles for each selected traveller and Maple Leaf lounge guest passes.

"The marketing is in Air Canada's hands," Mr. Payson said in an interview earlier this year.

Sky Regional's pilots have received training for "steep approaches" at the Toronto island airport.

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About the Author

Brent Jang is a business reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. He joined the Globe in 1995. His former positions include transportation reporter in Toronto, energy correspondent in Calgary and Western columnist for Report on Business. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway student newspaper. Mr. More

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