Air taxi service takes the high way to Muskoka
The cottage country commute is sure to be a breeze this weekend — at least for travellers willing to pay for a new air taxi service between Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport and Muskoka Airport in Gravenhurst.
Instead of spending more than two hours on Highway 400, passengers with FlyGTA, which launches the Muskoka service Friday, can expect to be near the lake in about 35 minutes.
“These flights are a great way for Muskoka residents and visitors to avoid traffic and save time,” said Chris Nowrouzi, CEO of FlyGTA, a Toronto-based operator of air charters and sightseeing tours over Toronto and Niagara Falls. FlyGTA also operates what it calls the shortest commercial flight in North America between Billy Bishop and St. Catharines/Niagara, at just over 10 minutes.
Nowrouzi called the flights a convenient alternative to bus, train and ride-sharing services to Gravenhurst — and to the chartered float planes that ferry wealthy cottagers onto Lake Rosseau and other posh retreats.
FlyGTA’s service, which costs $140 for a one-way ticket, including fees and HST, will run once a day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday during peak travel times to and from the Muskoka Airport, June to October. There are additional fees for baggage, depending on the size. The flights use a twin engine Piper Panther aircraft that can accommodate up to eight passengers at a time.
The initial flight to Muskoka on Friday is sold out, according to Nowrouzi.
He said public interest in the taxi service, which allows for quick check-in, no lineups and digital ticketing, will be monitored until early to mid-October. A decision will then be made with municipal authorities on whether to continue it, whether prices should be raised or cut, if more flights should be added or if a larger plane is required.
He said the carrier, which began with one plane offering scenic tours over Toronto and now operates eight light aircraft, is working with local governments and tourism bodies that are promoting the service but not providing revenue guarantees.
The Muskoka flights are geared to vacation commuters, tourists and business travellers, Nowrouzi said, adding that the company maintains low overheads compared to other air taxi services so that it can provide a competitive ticket price.
He said that no other airline offers regularly scheduled flights between Toronto and Muskoka, though Porter Airlines was reportedly interested.
“We do not typically comment on potential destinations,” a spokesperson for Porter said in email, “but I can say that we have no planned route announcements at the moment.”
The Muskoka Airport Board said the service will benefit Muskoka’s year-round residents, second home owners and visitors looking for more options and convenience connecting Muskoka and Toronto.
“The Muskoka Airport Board looks forward to welcoming more opportunities like this as we develop our strategic planning process this summer,” said board chair Bud Purves.
He said Muskoka welcomes close to 3 million visitors each year, adding that the new service will provide links through connecting carriers operating from Billy Bishop to more than 20 cities in Canada and the U.S.
“Muskoka’s tourism industry is integral to the district’s economy and Muskoka Tourism is excited to see the impact that regularly scheduled flights will have,” said Luke Nixon-Janssen, Muskoka Tourism chair.
He said the organization hopes the service can also bring new guests and new tourism dollars to Muskoka’s accommodation sector. He added that area municipalities and tourism organizations are working with FlyGTA to plan flight schedules and develop strategies to market the program.
In November, the carrier started offering 18-minute flights between Billy Bishop and the Waterloo Region at $129, and announced a similar new service between Toronto and the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport near Barrie. It had already been flying a 12-minute route between Toronto and the Niagara District Airport.
FlyGTA charges $140, all-in, for a 36-minute, one-way trip to cottage country.
Here’s how that compares:
Charter flights: Start around $3,000
Bus: A one-way, 167-kilometre bus trip from the Yorkdale terminal to Gravenhurst costs $30 to $45 and takes more than 2 hours, on a good day.
Train: Infrequent train service from Toronto takes 2 hours and 40 minutes, starts at $22 one-way, and only goes as far as Washago. From there you still need to take a 15-minute cab ride to Gravenhurst
Car: A one-way, 167-kilometre drive from Yorkdale terminal to Gravenhurst, also takes at least two hours, and costs gas and wear-and tear on your car. Without surge pricing, a one-way UberX trip will set you back $210 from One Yonge St.