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Flair Airlines increases Vancouver operations with Guadalajara route in May

CEO Stephen Jones shrugs of reports of unpaid tax bills, accuses media of "sensationalism"
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Flair Airlines CEO Stephen Jones speaks at Vancouver International Airport earlier today

Flair Airlines CEO Stephen Jones today shrugged off reports of financial problems at his airline, and reiterated that his ultra-low-cost carrier will embark on new routes, such as one set to be twice weekly between Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and Guadalajara, Mexico, starting May 31.

The last time an airline had a non-stop scheduled route between Vancouver and Guadalajara was 2004. 

Flair Airlines also continues to increase service between YVR and Las Vegas, Puerto Vallarta and San Francisco, Jones and chief commercial officer Garth Lund confirmed to BIV today on a video call. 

Jones first touted data that found his airline in 2023 had fewer cancelled flights than other airlines, and that 98.2 per cent of his airline's scheduled flights made it to the intended destination. He said this was the best performance by an airline in Canada on that metric. 

Flair's on-time performance for flights was 68.8 per cent in 2023, good enough for the No. 2 spot in Canada, Jones said. 

Questions on the call, however, centred around the revelation in court documents in late January that Flair Airlines owed the federal government $67.2 million in unpaid taxes. That prompted the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to get a court order to be able to seize and sell the carrier's property.

Jones said that the money in question related to import duties his airline owed for bringing into Canada "nearly 20" Boeing 737 Max planes.

He would not elaborate too much.

"We're a private company," Jones said. "Our tax matters are private. We've got a clear arrangement with the CRA and we are current with their plan and that is where it sits today."

Flair Airlines' ability to pay bills has been called into question before. 

Bailiffs in March 2023 helped Dublin-based Airborne Capital Ltd. issue Flair with lease-termination notices and seize four Boeing 737. The lessor alleged that Flair Airlines had not been making required payments. Jones at the time said his airline was "only a few days in arrears."

One question put to Jones today was whether the flying public should trust booking flights on Flair Airlines when the airline has ongoing financial disputes that carry the risk of having planes seized. 

"My message to the people is that they absolutely can confidently book with Flair," he answered. "We're going to be here delivering the same product that we have done successfully over the last few years."

He then suggested media were exaggerating the significance of the situation. 

"If you go back and look at some of the headlines that were created relative to the facts of the story, I think that there was a level of sensationalism that quickly built around that, and I think that the media has a responsibility to think about the impact that those headlines have on the concerns of people, on everyday Canadians."

gkorstrom@biv.com

twitter.com/GlenKorstrom