Emirates could rely on codesharing: Transport Canada

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Canada appears unlikely in the near-term to amend its aviation accord with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) despite calls from Dubai-based Emirates for increased frequencies to Toronto and other Canadian cities.

"The federal government believes that our current agreement with the UAE, which allows two carriers to provide direct services six times a week, is meeting the current needs of Canadians who wish to visit Dubai," a Transport Canada spokeswoman says.

In addition to Emirates, fellow UAE-based carrier Etihad Airways connects Toronto and Abu Dhabi thrice weekly, according to schedules in Innovata.

Transport Canada has not issued a final decision on Emirates' request to increase its Canadian presence beyond its thrice-weekly Dubai-Toronto flights and the regulator continues to monitor the market, the spokeswoman says.

In the interim, UAE carriers could maximize codeshare opportunities to help meet their needs and focus on passengers whose final destination is the UAE or Canada, she says, explaining that the Transport Canada view is UAE operators have high load factors because the airlines carry passengers whose ultimate destination is not the UAE or Canada.

Emirates seeks to offer daily flights to its only Canadian destination after launching the route in October 2007 and posting average load factors above 90% during the first year of operation.

"Hopefully we'll have some feedback in coming weeks on what the current thinking is [from regulators]," Emirates senior vice president for public, government and environmental affairs Andrew Parker tells ATI.

Calls for increased service accompany Emirates' upgauging aircraft on the city pair.

The Middle Eastern airline placed an Airbus A380 on the route on 1 June, shifting the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft previously used on the city pair to the Dubai-New York market.

The inaugural A380 flight to Toronto had a 94% load factor and the return flight to Dubai was 100% full, Parker says.

Load factors will be in the 90s during the next three weeks and the airline is "confident" its three-month forecast will also have load factors in the 90s, he adds.

"We believe the market is badly underserved," Parker says. "Fundamentally it is falling down to, 'do you believe in protectionism for a flag carrier or do you believe in competition?'" He is referencing concerns that if Emirates increased Canadian operations, it will impact liquidity-challenged Air Canada.

Air Canada, which supports liberalized aviation accords such as Canada's recently finalized European Union open aviation pact, says changes to the current aviation agreement with the UAE would need to create a "level playing field" for all airlines.

"By 'creating a level playing field', we mean there has to be a balance of originating traffic in each country so that both country's carriers benefit," an Air Canada spokesman says. "In certain countries, such as Dubai, there is very little originating traffic that comes to Canada. In effect, what carriers like Emirates do is pick up Canadians and take them to third countries with a stopover in Dubai. There is no reciprocal benefit to Canadian carriers."

Should the aviation accord be amended, Emirates intends to also add Calgary and Vancouver to its route map using -300ER or -200LR aircraft.

Emirates would ideally offer those destinations daily but such frequencies might be phased in gradually, Parker says.