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Startup Connect Airways Partners With American Ahead of Year-End Launch

Edward Russell
August 27th, 2021 at 12:16 PM EDT

Photo credit: Startup Connect Airways plans to begin flights between Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport and the U.S. by year-end. Flickr / Jamie McCaffrey

Startup Connect Airways has landed a big partner for its planned service connecting Toronto’s Billy Bishop airport with the U.S.: American Airlines.

Connect flyers will benefit from a codeshare agreement and full “earn and burn” mileage benefits in American’s loyalty program when flights begin, Waltzing Matilda Aviation CEO John Thomas told Airline Weekly on Friday. As part of the partnership, the airline plans to serve Chicago O’Hare and Philadelphia — both large American hubs — among its first destinations from Toronto. Connect is owned by Boston-based Waltzing Matilda, which has operated as a charter carrier since 2008.

“Our view is how do we give people in Toronto more than just a flight to Chicago — or some point in the U.S. — how do we make this a one-stop connection into a massive network,” he said. It gives us “a much stronger value proposition to people in Toronto.”

The tie up fits American’s aggressive strategy to find partners for gaps in its network. Earlier this year, the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier launched tie ups with both Alaska Airlines on the West Coast and — controversially — JetBlue Airways in the Northeast in an effort to boost its competitive position. And in South America, it recently unveiled a new equity partnership with Chile’s JetSmart Airlines to provide local connections to its millions of frequent flyers in South America. American lacks a partner to Canada.

“These partnerships are a means of being able to generate a massive amount of customer value,” American Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja said on August 25. “If we can create the biggest network for customers, everything kind of clicks into place from there.”

Connect is the latest in a slew of U.S. startup airlines. Avelo Airlines led by former Allegiant Air and United Airlines executive Andrew Levy launched in April, and Breeze Airways led by serial airline entrepreneur David Neeleman began flights in May. All three carriers see an opportunity to tap little or unserved — but different — markets in the U.S. Connect is unique in its plan to boost service between cities in the eastern U.S. and Billy Bishop, the closest airport to central Toronto and primarily served by local carrier Porter Airlines.

In April, Thomas told Airline Weekly that Porter has done a “nice job” connecting Billy Bishop with points in Canada but not in the U.S. Connect plans to tap the underserved transborder market from the airport.

While Connect has lined up American as a partner for when flights begin, it still needs approval from U.S. authorities. The airline must convert its FAA Part 135 certification that allows it to fly private charters to Part 121, which enables scheduled commercial flights. Transport Canada also needs to certify the airline before it can hire crews — who would be based in Toronto and subject to Canadian labor laws — and begin transborder service.

“We’re probably going to push closer to the end of the year,” Thomas said of the carrier’s launch target. He cited the “usual regulatory delays” and other variables for the timeline. An October 1 start date was outlined in a July filing with the Department of Transportation that was released on Thursday and first reported by Paxex.Aero.

Connect expects its first of two de Havilland Dash 8-400 turboprops leased from Chorus Aviation to arrive in mid-September, said Thomas. The second aircraft, both of which will be outfitted with 74 seats, is due before flights begin. And the airline has a letter of intent with another lessor for three more Dash 8s that would arrive in the first half of 2022.

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