It’s back to driving if you want to head up to Muskoka. On January 11, Porter Airlines announced that it’s discontinuing flight service between Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport and Muskoka Airport, north of Gravenhurst, Ont.
“Porter has appreciated working with local tourism and airport partners to promote Muskoka over the years,” said Brad Cicero, the director of communications and public affairs for Porter Airlines, in a statement. “Our joint efforts have contributed to generating broader interest in the region that we hope will have long-term benefits for the community.”
James Murphy, the CEO of RTO 12, a regional tourism organization that has been advocating for commercial flights to Muskoka since 2016 and was responsible for attracting Porter to the area, said that Porter’s cancellation of the flight service was a business decision.
While Jeff Lehman, the district chair for Muskoka, said: “The service was cancelled due to changes made by the terminal operator at the Island Airport in Toronto.” He added that the cancellation will impact Muskoka tourist operators who used the service as a way to bring people to the region from the city. “It’s disappointing to be sure, given the service was successful.”
Porter would not specify what factors led to the decision. Although, the airline has shifted its focus to its 100 new aircraft, which will be flying out of Toronto’s Pearson Airport to Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary starting in February.
Despite the cancelled service, Murphy stressed that RTO 12 had no hard feelings towards Porter. “At the time, we partnered with Porter, we were an untested airport and destination for the aviation industry, and our business case was built on projections,” he said. “Now, we have solid data and experience for building scheduled service at the airport, including successfully increasing the number of international visitors in 2022 over the inaugural season.”
Porter partnered with RTO 12 and the Muskoka Airport in 2019, offering flights between the two airports twice a week. The average cost of a roundtrip flight was around $200 with the trip taking approximately 20 minutes one way.
The pandemic, however, forced Porter to cancel the service in 2020 and 2021. The company restarted service in 2022. Despite a successful relaunch and, according to Murphy, an increase in passengers in 2022 compared to 2019, it wasn’t enough for Porter to continue the operation.
Moving forward, Murphy said RTO 12 will use the data collected during Porter’s flight service to create a compelling business case that will ideally attract other commercial airline services to Muskoka Airport.
“Our objective all along has been to increase international visitors to the region because they stay longer and spend more,” he said. “Commercial air service also allows us to be competitive with urban tourism destinations, such as Ottawa, Toronto, and Niagara Falls.”
Muskoka Airport’s CEO, Len O’Connor shared similar thoughts. “Muskoka continues to be a popular destination for both business and leisure passengers. Scheduled service in Muskoka has proven to be successful—the Porter Airline service offered many opportunities to enhance operations and we are looking forward to what the future brings.”