Aspiring Canadian startup Jetlines, advancing its new strategy of building a route network that seeks to avoid WestJet ULCC subsidiary Swoop, plans to include Quebec City Jean Lesage International Airport (YQB) in its network, the airline and airport announced Feb. 13.

“It’s a very promising market,” Jetlines CEO Javier Suarez told delegates at Aviation Week’s Routes Americas conference in Quebec City. “We’re going to give people in Quebec City the kind of capacity they want, and they deserve.”

YQB has been in growth mode, going from 648,000 passengers in 2000 to a record 1.8 million in 2018—a 7.2% compound annual growth rate. The airport opened a new terminal in 2017, doubling its capacity, but has not been tapped by any aggressive low-cost operators targeting Canada’s fertile domestic and transborder markets, notably Swoop and Edmonton-based independent ultra-LCC Flair Airlines

“Bringing a low-cost option to Québec City was one of our top priorities for the future and one of the reasons why we’ve expanded our terminal,” YQB president and CEO Gaëtan Gagne said, adding “this strategy is paying off and we welcome Jetlines with enthusiasm.”

YQB has service from Air Canada’s leisure-focused rouge brand, LCC Air Transat, Toronto-based Sunwing Airlines, and WestJet’s regional feeder. Unlike those carriers, and like Swoop, Jetlines plans an aggressive ramp-up that taps into what Suarez sees as pent-up demand.

“Canada is a very unique market,” Suarez said. “There is no other developed market where two carriers”—Air Canada and WestJet—“control 80% of the market. That’s the foundation of the opportunity.”

Swoop, which launched last year, is targeting more price-sensitive markets that are not suited for WestJet’s mainline or regional brands. It is targeting secondary airports, including the Toronto area’s John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport, as part of a strategy to avoid pulling passengers from its WestJet-branded flying.

Jetlines, which has been working toward a first flight for several years, had Hamilton at the center of a previous route strategy. Swoop’s progress has changed this, with Jetlines now touting Vancouver—a large WestJet operation—as its initial base. 

“We want to avoid competing with Swoop,” Suarez said. “We don’t believe Swoop is going to jump into Vancouver.”

Jetlines still has not announced a start date, but Suarez underscored that plans to get the airline flying in 2019 remain on track. 

“We are very close to being totally ready to launch operations,” he said. 

The airline’s planned route network remains under wraps, but Suarez said that under-served markets and secondary airports will be the primary focus. The exceptions will be when competitive circumstances favor serving a large airport, such as in Vancouver. The airline has also announced plans to operate at Montreal’s secondary airport, Aéroport Montréal Saint-Hubert Longueuil. Suarez also expects Jetlines to serve markets in the US, Mexico, and the Caribbean, including both seasonal and some year-round destinations.

Jetlines will start operations with two 180-seat Airbus A320s sourced via Dublin-based lessor AerCap. The former Air New Zealand aircraft are slated to be delivered “soon,” Suarez said, declining to reveal additional fleet plans. 

Bigger picture, his team sees demand for at least 100 aircraft flying ULCC operations in Canada, assuming a modest 15% total-market penetration rate. Right now, the combined operating fleet of Swoop and Flair Airlines is less than 20 aircraft, leaving ample room for both growth and new entrants, including Indigo Partners-backed Enerjet and Jetlines, Suarez said.

Sean Broderick, sean.broderick@aviationweek.com