Air Canada to introduce service next summer to Istanbul and upgrade to Asia

MONTREAL – Air Canada is introducing direct service next summer to Istanbul, Turkey and will use two new Boeing 777 aircraft to expand its reach into the lucrative Asia-Pacific market.

Year-round service to Istanbul three times a week from Toronto will begin June 4 and serve as a gateway to Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa with alliance partner Turkish Airlines.

“Istanbul and Turkey is growing incredibly fast. The traffic that we have been carrying to date via our European partners we feel warrants now a non-stop service,” chief commercial officer Ben Smith said in an interview.

Air Canada (TSX:AC.B) will also add a fifth destination in Asia from Toronto by launching non-stop, three-times-a-week service to Seoul. The flights will complement existing service from Vancouver and provide daily departures from Canada to the South Korean capital.

Three more weekly departures between Toronto and Beijing will begin June 1, bringing the total to 10 a week. Vancouver will offer 11 weekly departures with the addition of four additional flights, including a new late night flight.

Service from Calgary to Tokyo Narita will be upgraded to daily flights on Boeing 767 planes with the addition of two flights a week starting May 1.

“We’re now up to 12 times a day with these new routes to Asia-Pacific out of Canada and we expect with the (Boeing) 787s starting in 2014 to grow that even further,” Smith said.

“So obviously we’re going to deploy our aircraft with the most profitable opportunities that are out there and we feel that’s what we’re seeing in Asia.”

The expanded service will appeal to leisure travellers, but the airline is focused on enhancing its Toronto hub for use by business travellers originating from the eastern United States and Canada.

The Montreal-based airline released part of its summer schedule on Thursday but hasn’t yet disclosed the destinations for its new low-cost service.

The unnamed discount carrier will focus on leisure destinations in the United States and Caribbean and some routes in Europe. It will begin operations with two Boeing 767-300ER and two Airbus A319 aircraft that will be released from Air Canada’s mainline fleet.

Additional planes will be added as Air Canada starts to take delivery of new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft in 2014, ramping up to 50 planes.

Air Canada is Canada’s largest domestic and international airline and the 15th largest airline in the world, serving more than 33 million passengers last year.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, its shares gained three cents at $1.80 in midday trading Thursday.