Swoop targeting November return for international flights from Hamilton’s airport

A Boeing 737 jetliner, belonging to WestJet Airlines low-cost carrier Swoop, lands at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nv., on Thur., Feb. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Larry MacDougal

The president of ultra-low-cost air carrier Swoop says it’s setting its sights on a November resumption of international passenger service out of Hamilton’s John C. Munro airport.

Charles Duncan says a pair of Florida destinations — St. Pete/Clearwater and Orlando — are the targets next month with the hopes of expanding flights to Mexico and the Caribbean in December, assuming they can get clearances from Ottawa.

“We do need some help from the federal government, from Transport Canada, to make that a reality,” Duncan told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

“We’re just getting all of the horses aligned, if you will, to make that happen.”

Duncan says the airline is awaiting an update to the Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) from the Trudeau government which restricted direct commercial and private passenger flights to Canada and from a number of international destinations following advice from public health amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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On Tuesday, parent company WestJet and Swoop hosted a 90-minute restart roundtable in Hamilton to get a vision of what travel would be like for the entities post-pandemic.

In the darkest days of COVID, staff revealed a 90 per cent decrease in demand for passenger service and in revenue — worse than what was seen amid SARS and 9-11.

The impact to Hamilton’s international passenger service was a 66 per cent decrease in visits between 2019 and 2020 contributing to Ontario’s loss of $5.2 billion in tourism overall since the start of COVID-19 restrictions.

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A recent economic impact study from the airlines revealed, pre-pandemic, the two contributed $80 million in GDP for the city which included 500 full-time jobs.

The unprecedented decline in demand for flights in the industry as a whole saw WestJet lay off over 9,000 of its pre-pandemic workforce of 14,000 between March and June of 2020.

Up until the summer of 2021, Swoop only had three weekly flights from Hamilton International Airport, to Edmonton and Abbotsford, but saw a return of flights to Kelowna, Winnipeg and Halifax in June.

The international restart for Swoop largely depends on travel advisory changes from Ottawa tied to COVID-19 vaccination rates, changes to mandatory testing when reentering Canada, child travel policies and the restoration of full service to the county’s airports.

“The federal government has been mandating that all of our employees — and that’s every single employee — be fully vaccinated by the end of this month,” Duncan said.

“They’re also rolling out a requirement for full vaccination of all of the travellers who are on all modes of transportation, not only airlines but via rail and others.”

As of October, only 10 airports across Canada have approval from Ottawa to continue international service. Duncan said WestJet and Swoop are “angling” to ensure that Hamilton is the 11th.

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The future is already looking a bit brighter in terms of employment for Swoop, which began training recalls and new staff in anticipation of a restart in the months ahead.

“Just this week on Monday, we have 33 new flight attendants from the Hamilton area who were training to join Swoop later next month,” Duncan said.





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