Written by Benjamin Bearup

MIAMI — Air Canada has announced that it will launch daily service between Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport and Tokyo-Narita International Airport with the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. The route is set to begin on June 1st, 2018 and is subject to government approval.

The flight, Air Canada 005, will depart Montreal at 14:05 and land in Tokyo-Narita at 15:50. The return flight, Air Canada 006, will depart Tokyo-Narita at 17:30 and land in Montreal at 16:30. The service will drop to 3x a week during the winter months.

“Air Canada is continuing its global expansion by strategically building its Montreal hub, and we are thrilled to announce the launch of non-stop flights to TokyoMontreal’s first scheduled link to Japan. The new flights will offer travelers from Atlantic Canada and the Northeastern U.S. convenient access to Japan and beyond, complementing our existing Tokyo flights from TorontoVancouver and Calgary, while also strategically positioning Air Canada as a leader in the growing Montreal–Asia market,” said Calin Rovinescu, President and Chief Executive Officer, Air Canada. “This new transpacific service further reflects Air Canada’s ongoing international growth strategy from Montreal, following the recent introduction of non-stop flights to ShanghaiLimaNorth Africa and Europe. In addition, it enables Montreal to derive significant direct benefits including the creation of close to 130 Air Canada flight attendant, pilot and airport positions.”

“This direct flight between two international cities, Tokyo and Montreal, shows that Montreal is once again a major player in Canadian and North American aviation. After Shanghai and Tel Aviv, this new flight to Japan’s capital reflects a major investment by Air Canada that will generate significant economic and tourism benefits for our city,” said Montréal Mayor Denis Coderre.

Currently, the only route to Asia that Air Canada offers from Montréal is to Shanghai-Pudong. Air China offers nonstop service from Montreal to Beijing five times per week, with one of those weekly services continuing onto Havana from Montreal. Air China and Air Canada concluded a memorandum of understanding in March 2015 to form a comprehensive strategic alliance on Canada – China services jointly operated by both carriers. While short of completing a fully-formed joint venture, the long-term intention is to create an immunized alliance between Air Canada and Air China’s major hubs on both sides of the Pacific.

Air Canada does operate an extensive transatlantic route network from Montréal. The airline currently serves Brussels, Frankfurt, Geneva, London, Lyon, Paris, Rome, and Tel Aviv from Montréal. Its low-cost subsidiary, Air Canada Rouge, flies to Casablanca, Algiers, Athens, Barcelona, Marseille, Nice, Reykjavik, and Venice. The Marseille, Reykjavik, Tel Aviv and Algiers additions were part of a larger 2017 expansion by Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge to lynchpin Montréal as a secondary connecting hub in addition to Toronto. Other new markets launched from Montréal have included Dallas/Ft. WorthWashington/Dulles, and Lima this year.

From Tokyo-Narita, Air Canada already operates flights to Calgary, Vancouver, and seasonal service to Toronto. Air Canada also operates service to the preferred Tokyo-Haneda from Toronto. Air Canada customers will be able to connect onto fellow Star Alliance partner All-Nippon Airways flights in Tokyo Narita.

Air Canada and All Nippon Airways do not have a revenue-sharing joint venture agreement on transpacific services, although the two carriers have had an extensive codeshare agreement in place since 1996. ANA resumed services to Canada, via Vancouver, in 2014, from Tokyo Haneda, the same year that Air Canada launched services to Tokyo Haneda from its Toronto hub.

Japan and China comprise the vast majority of Air Canada’s Asian network. Air Canada mainline serves Shanghai, Beijing, and Tokyo (Narita and Haneda), while Air Canada Rouge flies to Osaka and Nagoya. Outside of Japan and China, Air Canada flies to Mumbai, Delhi, Hong Kong, Seoul, and Taipei. Air Canada has opted not to venture into secondary Chinese markets as those have been covered by homegrown airlines like Sichuan Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Beijing Capital Airlines and Xiamen Airlines.

However, it is unclear whether Air Canada values its potential JV with Air China more than a possible JV with ANA. Given the fact that Air Canada has effectively maxed out options from its four Canadian hubs (Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver) to both Tokyo airports, and continues to secure slots at the primary Chinese airports (Beijing and Shanghai), it would make sense for Air Canada to cement its anti-trust immunization ambitions with an Asian carrier. United has a JV agreement with All Nippon Airways on transpacific routes, as does Lufthansa (with most of Star Alliance’ primary Asian members, including Singapore Airlines to Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, Air China between Europe and China, and ANA between Europe and Japan). Furthermore, Air Canada participates with Lufthansa and United on transatlantic services, which is exceptionally profitable.

That being said, a link to Tokyo Narita is a necessary step for Montréal’s continued expansion as a major 6th-freedom transit point for Air Canada. After a long period in which Canada’s flag carrier relied exclusively on Toronto Pearson as its sole transit point, Air Canada has quickly developed both Montréal and Vancouver as secondary springboards into Asia, Australia, Europe and Latin America. The one downside is that Air Canada is still trying to justify the explosive available seat miles (ASM) growth with corresponding improvements in unit revenue, but with fuel costs low, new aircraft on arrival, a healthy economy and growing demands for foreign travel, Air Canada will continue to broaden its presence in foreign markets and provide more access for Canadian and foreign travelers.

Written by Benjamin Bearup and Rohan Anand