Canadian flyers have had a lot to contend with in recent weeks, between flight cancellations, extreme wait times, and changing travel rules. But the situation may worsen after this summer, according to some industry experts. Staff shortages at airlines and airports will continue, exacerbated by new low-cost airlines coming onto the market and upcoming structural changes to established carriers.
"We are going to be facing a tsunami of capacity in the Canadian marketplace over the next 18 to 24 months. Airports will be as busy if not busier than we've already seen this summer," McGill's Faculty Lecturer and Coordinator of the Aviation Management Program, John Gradek, told MTL Blog.
Ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs) Flair and Lynx are expected to deploy 50 new planes each in the coming months, while Porter plans to expand its fleet by another 50 aircraft.
"We're going to see 150 new airplanes, which is about the size of Air Canada's fleet. So it's as if another large carrier is starting but with three different companies," said Gradek.
While more flights may relieve some of the congestion in airports, it could also make it worse.
"The fact that we'll have all that growth at the low end of Canadian airlines is going to keep wages low," said Gradek.
ULCC airlines operate with a low-cost business model to pass savings onto customers through cheap tickets. But one way they keep their costs low is by paying lower wages and outsourcing jobs. That won't entice people to join the industry, or create a competitive atmosphere between carriers to provide better service.
"[ULCCs] will be the driver of wages for most people working in airlines and airports. We'll see a continuation of the panic we've had this summer in getting people to work. It's going to further aggravate the congestion," said Gradek.
"The modus operandi of Flair and Lynx is cutting costs. They're contracting it to third-party service providers and those guys compete on the basis of price, which drives price structures down. Corresponding labour rates will come down as well. As much as you'd think they want to create a greater level of ownership and belonging, they won't be creating careers for people."
As emerging carriers begin to expand their services they'll have to compete with other airlines for airport access. At one of Canada's busiest travel hubs, Pearson Airport in Toronto, existing airlines have top priority for landings and departures. This "slot-based system" is given to airlines based on historical operating rights. That means new ULCCs have to apply for slots and will only be granted the ones that are available.
With Porter Airlines planning to increase its fleet, many of the current airport openings will likely evaporate for competing carriers. Not only will that impact pricing, but a lack of staff coupled with far more traffic could overtax the Pearson Airport infrastructure.
"Bonne chance. It's going to be a zoo," said Gradek.