Porter has a big task ahead of itself as it expands beyond its original model. In a crowded market, Porter’s plan is to try to recreate the advantage it has built in Toronto over in Montréal by serving a different airport in Saint-Hubert. This looks like more of an uphill climb than in Toronto.
In Toronto, there is the big, bad Pearson airport. When Porter started, its whole plan was to fly from close-in and heavily restricted Toronto/City airport which is right near downtown and much closer than Pearson. City airport had short runways and isn’t allowed to be served by jets, so its potential reach was always going to be limited. But proximity was the key selling point and would given Porter an identity as it got off the ground.
After building out the Toronto network, Porter expanded beyond with more flying in other cities in Eastern Canada like Ottawa, Montréal, and Halifax. But now that it has acquired Embraer E2 jets, it has to find good ways to deploy them as well.
The initial plan has been to connect big cities across Canada. These are big and crowded markets, and Porter is relying on its more boutique-style service level to get an edge. But the boutique plan loses a lot of juice when you still have to use the same airports as everyone else. In Montréal, Porter is and has always been at the main airport, Trudeau (formerly Dorval) (YUL), but it now has a new plan.
Montréal is an island that has a population of about 2 million people. That has grown 3.2 percent since 2016. To the east of Montréal, across the St Lawrence River, lies a faster growing part of town led by Longueuil. Between 2016 and 2021, that area went grew by 5.6 percent to nearly three-quarters of a million. Right in the middle of that lies Montréal Saint-Hubert Longueuil Airport (YHU).
Porter’s plan is to build a new terminal with the airport that will have 9 gates and can serve up to 4 million people a year. The airline says it will be modeled on the Toronto/City terminal. And while Porter will serve both YHU and YUL, it sees opportunity for up to 10 routes from YHU as far as Vancouver and St John’s. The airline will serve both Toronto airports from YHU and will use a mix of E2s and Q400 props in the market when the terminal opens next year.
If Porter’s plan is to just rely on traffic originating from that side of the St Lawrence, this probably isn’t going to work. But Porter is trying to bank on people actually crossing the river from Montréal itself.
From downtown Montréal to YUL, there is frequent bus service and with no traffic it’s a 20 minute drive in a car. To get to Saint-Hubert, there is a bridge, but it should also take about 20 minutes to drive that as well. Of course, there’s often traffic, but that can go both ways. So just assume that right from the center of the city, it’s about the same time required to get to either airport. So why would anyone choose YHU?
If you assume that passengers can arrive much later and spend far less time at the airport before departure, that’s the instant savings there. It’s that whole boutique vibe being extended to the airport.
There’s little question this will be an uphill battle for the airlnie. Right now, there is only a small regional operator at the airport, so it’s rarely if ever top of mind for travelers in the area. But with Porter having a presence in both airports, it will at least have an opportunity to try and train its customers.
I like the effort if only because Porter is entering very crowded markets, and this is one way it can try to stand out and draw share. It’s already a very tough task ahead of the airline, so maybe this can help… albeit with more money going out the door to build the terminal. Then it has to hope it actually can train passengers to use the airport. That’s not so easy unless fares are cheap, and that’s the opposite of what the very non-ULCC Porter needs to happen.
One thing is certain… this would have been a whole lot easier if a big chunk of flying actually moved to far out Mirabel (YMX) back when that effort was underway. Once people have to start considering multiple airports, it gets easier to add in more. But for now, this is a new concept for most people in the area. While far from a guaranteed success, it’s the kind of move an airline like Porter needs to make to help differentiate itself.