MIAMI — The Melbourne Airport Authority indicated earlier this week that it is in negotiations with a “major international air carrier” to launch service. The airport is not saying who the carrier is, but it has offered a few hints:

  • The carrier does not service Florida today
  • The initial proposal is for seasonal service on a 70-seat aircraft

The first factor eliminates many carriers from consideration. The second cuts even more. A quick scan of operators of the CRJ-700 and E170 families of aircraft suggests that the only viable candidate (i.e. hub close enough and not already flying to Florida) would be Conviasa, a Venezuelan airline which is on the brink of collapse. And even that would only work if the carrier had the ER package; it is unclear if they do or not.

The other option in the 70-seat range is the Dash-8 Q400, which also happens to be the backbone of the Porter Airlines fleet. Yes, the flight from Billy Bishop Airport in downtown Toronto to Melbourne is within the range of the Q400, even if that’s a long time on a turboprop. Porter Airlines makes a solid business of connecting seasonal leisure markets to Canada; Charleston and Myrtle Beach are the current longest segments in the network and also operate as seasonal service. Given the parameters defined it seems likely that this is the airline currently in negotiations with Melbourne.

In order to secure the new service the airport will be installing a boarding bridge for arrivals into its immigration facility. Florida Today lists the cost of that at just shy of $1mm. There will also be a $523/turn landing fee assessed but that will be waived for the first two years of service. A $325,000 marketing budget is also part of the incentive plan to attract service. Even with these significant costs the efforts are, according to Airport Authority member Scott Mikuen, a “break even” financial scenario for the airport. And there are two other carriers apparently also in negotiations.

For Porter Airlines this move would seem to be smart business. The Snow Bird traffic flow is strong and non-stop service to the convenience of a non-Orlando airport is likely to have appeal to passengers. Plus most of the costs are being paid by the airport authority and the local tourism board in Florida. The value proposition for the airport is a bit harder to nail down, especially with the short-term expenses, but growth of international passenger traffic is nearly always a good thing for a region.

The original report suggests that the new entrant could grow service, both in frequency and in aircraft size. The latter would be impossible for Porter in the near future as it only operates the one type. But the company has an order for the CSeries on the books and, assuming it can work out the noise issues at Billy Bishop, that could be the up-gauge being discussed.