Muskoka cottage

Tourism group pitching direct flights between Toronto and Muskoka

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Muskoka is already the epitome of upper-class cottaging, but a new proposal could solidify its status.

According to a report by The Globe and Mail, Porter airlines is currently engaging in “very preliminary” talks with a regional tourism group about offering commercial flights between downtown Toronto and the heart of Ontario cottage country.

The goal is to bring more U.S. money into the region, rather than “recycling Ontario money.”

“Muskoka was built on families coming up from Pennsylvania,” James Murphy, executive director of Explorers’ Edge, told the Toronto Star, adding that there are passenger flights to and from the resort town of Mont Tremblant, Quebec. Porter’s now-successful service to Mont Tremblant began in the 2007 and 2008 ski season with two flights a week, and the proposed Muskoka service would offer something similar.

Proponents of the cottage country flights imagine the service would run for 12 weeks, from June to September, to start. It would involve two round-trip flights per week, likely on Thursdays and Sundays, which would originate downtown at the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

Though tourism officials plan to target Americans interested in Canadian wilderness getaways, these flights could also attract downtown-dwellers, who are willing to pay extra to beat the dreaded Friday evening traffic out of the city.

But other important details, like how it would be paid for, haven’t been worked out yet. Mark Stirling, manager of Gravenhurst’s Muskoka Airport, told The Globe that the project’s backers, including the municipality, may have to foot the bill for some empty seats in order to get the project off the ground.

But Samantha Hastings, the District of Muskoka’s commissioner of planning and economic development, told reporters it’s unlikely the district would pay for unfilled seats. This aspect of the plan also made Liz Denyar, president of the Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association, hesitate. According to the report, she doesn’t think it’s the best use of taxpayers’ money.

“We have other problems to solve, other places to put the money,” she said.

Getting the small, local airport ready for commercial flights would be costly as well. Currently, the airport only serves private planes, which means it has no ticket counters, security screening facilities, secure holding zones, or even a baggage handling area.

Along with the costs involved, officials also need to determine if there’s any real interest in the service.

“Obviously, there needs to be some market and some demand to support a service with the aircraft that we operate,” Porter spokesman Brad Cicero told The Globe earlier this week.

An aviation consulting firm has been hired to determine how feasible the plan is. A report on their findings will be presented at a meeting with the District of Muskoka later this month, when Explorers’ Edge is expected to push for upgrades to the Muskoka Airport, and seek Transport Canada security screening authorization.

If all goes well at the meeting, the proposal could go before district council by the end of the summer.

Featured photo credit: LesPalenik/Shutterstock.com

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