Flair Airlines moving headquarters from Kelowna to Edmonton

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WATCH ABOVE: Low-cost carrier Flair Air operates 188 flights a week across Canada. As Kim Smith reports, it's moving its headquarters to Edmonton just as the discount flight market heats up.

After making Edmonton International Airport its main transfer hub, ultra-low cost carrier Flair Airlines is also moving its headquarters to Alberta’s capital.

“As such, that makes us Edmonton’s hometown airline,” Flair executive chairman David Tait said at the announcement Tuesday morning in downtown Edmonton.

Flair currently has 76 employees in Edmonton and it just trained 38 new flight attendants, with 30 of them coming from the Edmonton area.

READ MORE: Air Canada open to ultra-low-cost air fares to compete in changing market

Flair is currently based in Kelowna, but will move to Edmonton in the next few months. Tait said the move will bring 75 more jobs to Edmonton, and, over the next few years, he expects that number to grow to 300.

“We are also looking forward to tapping into Edmonton’s professional talent pool as we progressively establish our headquarters here over the coming months.”

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Tait said about 40 or 50 employees might come from Kelowna to Edmonton, and other roles located around the country will be centralized.

Tait said the move will help promote its growth.

“Kelowna was a fine base for a charter operator but it didn’t really give us the scope, the potential we need as we’re growing,” he told The Canadian Press.

He elaborated with reporters on Tuesday, saying from every standpoint the company needed to be in a larger market.

“We’re not just in the business of flying leisure passengers or backpackers or whatever — we also have small business owners who fly with us as well, so Edmonton was just a very easy choice.”

Tait said one of the reasons they chose Edmonton over other major cities is because Calgary and Montreal already have airlines based there, and Toronto was too large and expensive. He said the supportive team at EIA also made it an easy decision.

“This is really the only place for us to be in Canada, from a geographic standpoint, from a growth standpoint,” he said, adding it was clear that “Edmonton was the place that we really had to be.”

READ MORE: These are the low-cost airlines you can fly in Canada

Tom Ruth, President and CEO of EIA, welcomed the company to the city.

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“All of us who are privileged to call this great region home can attest that the Edmonton metro region is a great place to live, work and play. We know that the Flair community will fit right in,” he said.

Beyond the airport, Tait said the region itself was appealing because of high disposable income and rapid growth — according to the 2016 federal census, Edmonton was the second-fastest growing city in the country over the past five years.

READ MORE: Census 2016: 4 Edmonton ‘burbs are booming

Flair said as of June, 725,000 passengers have flown with the ultra-low cost carrier — which was the first of its kind in Canada when it launched last summer. The airline currently operates 188 flights a week across Canada.

“Last week, we actually doubled the amount of flying on a weekly basis we were doing, and 65 per cent of that flying comes through Edmonton,” Tait said. “And that flying now takes us from Victoria to Halifax, so we’re truly spreading our wings right across the country.”

Flair Airlines currently has seven Boeing 737s, and plans to be operating 12 aircraft by the spring of 2019.

Flair recently added new direct flights from Edmonton to Saskatoon, Prince George and Victoria. It also flies direct from Calgary to Vancouver, Winnipeg and Kelowna. Last fall, the airline also expanded to Toronto Pearson International Airport.

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READ MORE: Flair airlines expands to Toronto, Vancouver and Kelowna; names Edmonton main transfer hub

Tait said the airline will be adding flights to the U.S. by winter, and hinted at California being one of their destinations.

“I can’t give you too much detail at this stage, but let me say if you are planning to spring off to some palms somewhere, or a visit to a famous mouse somewhere, that maybe gives you a clue,” he quipped.

Tait said Flair Airlines is trying lure the more than five or six million Canadians who cross the border to catch flights from airports in Buffalo and Plattsburgh, N.Y., and Bellingham, Wash.

“They’re all going there because of lower U.S. carrier fares than they can get in Canada. So we want to repatriate that group. We also think there’s also more than double that number of people who just don’t fly,” said Tait, adding when Westjet launched it said its competition was Ford and Toyota, and “that’s very much the case again now.”

The Flair Airlines announcement comes one day before WestJet gears up to launch the country’s second ultra-low cost airline. Swoop will make its maiden flight from Hamilton, Ont., to Abbotsford, B.C.

READ MORE: Competition heating up for price sensitive passengers as Swoop set to launch

Flair, and soon Swoop, is in an area of the airline business that doesn’t have a stellar history of success in Canada: Jetsgo, Air Canada’s Tango, Canada 3000 and Roots Air have all floundered in the past.

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Tait said the market has changed, as this new breed of ultra low-cost airlines offers deeply discounted fares with charges for everything from a onboard drink to carry-on and checked baggage – and it’s up to the consumer to determine what al-la-carte services they want.

READ MORE: No-frills ‘nightmares’: Passengers describe missing refunds and bookings with Canada’s Flair Air

Also on Tuesday, Tait announced the company is working to become the first autism-friendly certified airline, and is working with both EIA and Autism Edmonton on programs to support travellers on the autism spectrum. Details were not released at Tuesday’s event.

In addition to commercial flights, the company operates charter flights for private companies and other airlines such as Air Transat, Sunwing and Canadian North Airlines.

Last year, Flair bought discount airline NewLeaf Travel to become one entity. The two companies had been linked since the launch of NewLeaf, with Flair providing the actual flights and NewLeaf selling tickets.

— With files from Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press