New flight service connecting Toronto and Niagara to launch in the fall

TORONTO – A new flight service connecting Toronto and the Niagara region is set to launch in the fall.

Starting Sept. 15, charter flight company Greater Toronto Airways will run two round trips between Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport and the Niagara Regional Airport every weekday.

David Nissan, vice-president of operations for Greater Toronto Airways, says the flights will run about 15 minutes, with capacity for eight passengers.

“We hope that it will connect the communities,” he says. “We can cut down commuting times from two hours to 15 minutes.”

Nissan says the company is starting out by targeting business travellers, and flights will cost $85 one way and $149 for a round trip.

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati says people in Niagara need more options to get to Toronto and back, and finding a way to cross the lake instead of going around it could be a good solution. He says traffic congestion on the highways is becoming “unbearable and unreasonable” for commuters.

“In Niagara, we can see Toronto. We can see it right across Lake Ontario, perfectly, day and night. It’s too bad it’s not easy to get there,” he says.

Diodati says he hopes the flight options will have a “symbiotic” benefit for people and businesses in Toronto and the Niagara region.

“It’s a huge opportunity,” he says. “The GTA has been going north and east and even west, and now it has to go south and tap into what we have.”

St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley says he’s seen several options for transport across Lake Ontario pop up during his 39-year tenure in office, but none have lasted. At one time, he says there was even a boat connecting Rochester, N.Y., and Toronto.

For a while, there was also a hydrofoil boat that carried passengers between Niagara and Toronto, but the vessel was involved in an incident in 1998 that injured one of its four passengers on board. The boat ran into unexpected rough weather that engulfed it in waves up to three metres high, shattering the boat’s front window and flooding the passenger compartment.

After a review, the Transportation Safety Board Canada said it would no longer certify that model of hydrofoil to cross the lake, concluding that it wasn’t designed for the potential weather conditions over the water.

Sean Polden, a consultant who has advocated for GO Transit service in Niagara, floated the idea of a commuter ferry service between Niagara and Toronto in 2013. Polden now lives and works in St. Catharines, but he spent more than a year making the daily drive to his previous job in Toronto.

Polden says the new flight option has benefits, but he worries it isn’t accessible enough.

“For a one-off, it’s fine, but if you’re doing it on a daily basis the cost is prohibitive — unless you’re in the salary range that it’s not,” he says. “But once you get above $30 round-trip, you’re pricing most people out of the service.”

The provincial government announced in June that work will start next year to expand GO Transit’s regional rapid transit network to Hamilton and Niagara. A new GO station is slated to open in Niagara Falls in 2023.