Update June 4, 2012
This Wednesday, Laurentian University will present Robert Deluce with an honorary degree.
(This article is from the Fall 2010 issue of Sudbury Living)
With the launch of daily flights to Toronto from Sudbury in March 2010 and from Thunder Bay last year, Porter Airlines is “home.”
Both cities have always factored into Porter’s plans for growth but, “it made good sense to wait until we had other destinations developed like Ottawa, Montreal, New York, Chicago, Boston, and places like that before we got too actively involved in Northern Ontario,” says Robert Deluce, president and CEO of Porter Airlines.
The airline has also had discussions with Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins as possible new northern destinations.
One daily non-stop roundtrip flight is available from Sudbury, with one-way fares starting at $99, plus taxes. Porter’s Thunder Bay schedule offers three daily roundtrips during the week and two roundtrips on both Saturday and Sunday.
“Bob understands the north,” says Robert Kokonis, president of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc., who has known Deluce since the 1980s. “He’s put a lot of thought into this, and if he believes he has a compelling case, then it’s a good choice.”
In 1951, Deluce’s father, Stan, started White River Air Services, a tourist outfitter. In 1974, the family purchased the Timmins-based Austin Airways and turned it into one of the fastest growing commuter carriers in North America.
Over the years, the family owned, managed and/or operated a number of other regional airliners including norOntair, Air Creebec, Air Ontario, Air Manitoba, Air Alliance and Canada 3000 Airlines.
Stan, who died this past January, was inducted into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame in 2007 for his role in the aviation history of Canada.
“He was a very positive influence on all of us, and I think he was an inspiration to a lot of people making their way in this business in Northern Ontario and other parts,” says Deluce, who has fond memories of his father’s fishing camp on Manitoulin Island.
Flying is imbedded in the family’s DNA. All six Deluce brothers have pilot licences. Two of Deluce’s sons work at Porter today. The Porter CEO abandoned plans to be a doctor to pursue the family business, despite a tendency to become airsick.
“I got over that quickly,” says Deluce, with typical tenacity. Today, he pilots his own plane usually as a quick get-away to his cottage.
Porter’s feisty bush plane roots are still evident. Starting with two carriers in 2006, Porter currently has a fleet of 20 planes flying to 13 destinations in Canada and the United States. Next year, it will serve more than 1.3 million passengers from its new $149-million terminal on Toronto Island. It is the third largest carrier in Canada with more than 900 employees.
The Porter “flying experience” has raised the bar for domestic air travel. Its terminal at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is a 15-minute commute from downtown Toronto. It offers a panoramic view of Lake Ontario and the city skyline. All passengers have access to a luxurious lounge with no-cost cappuccinos, other “premium” drinks and snacks, and Wi-Fi. Perks like a recent promotion with a leading distiller to offer scotch tastings, are winsome. Porter’s Bombardier Q400 turboprop planes are fast, quiet and roomy with plush leather seats. Free light meals, beer and wine are available on flights.
“We’re very much motivated by the overall customer experience,” says Deluce. “The rest will take care of itself.”
For validation, he points to the 2010 Canadian Business Travel Study, an independent study by Ipsos Reid, which reveals that 93 percent of customers are very satisfied with Porter.
Until now, Porter has enjoyed a monopoly on the Island airport. Deluce bought the rights to the terminal in 2005 and evicted Air Canada Jazz. But Jazz and Continental Airlines have recently been awarded take-off slots at Billy Bishop Airport.
Porter struck a balance of flying under the “radar screen” of Canada’s bigger carriers while growing steadily, says Kokonis. But he and industry experts predict cut-throat price wars and aggressive marketing campaigns are in store.
Porter is forging ahead with its growth strategy which includes more routes in Canada and American destinations such asWashington and Philadelphia.
An initial public offering (IPO), meant to raise $120 million for expansion, was shelved in June.
“In the short term, it is likely we’ll find our funding for growth elsewhere, but we’ll come back to the IPO at some point in the new year,” says Deluce.
Fittingly, the airline’s mascot is a cheeky raccoon, Mr. Porter. “It’s mischievous, determined, with a lot of savvy…many of those main attributes describe Porter,” says Deluce.
When asked why Porter will succeed, Deluce says with a grin, “I’ll go back to that raccoon.”
Teresa Pagnutti lives in Toronto. She grew up in Sudbury and began her writing career as a reporter at Northern Life