REGINA - Starting next spring, there will be a resumption of flights from Regina International Airport to the Twin Cities.
Officials from the airport and from WestJet announced Monday that there will be seven-day-a-week direct flights from Regina to Minneapolis-St.Paul starting on April 28, 2024.
The flights will depart Regina at 8:15 am daily beginning on that date and arrive at Minneapolis-St.Paul at 11:16 a.m. daily. The flights will connect to 73 destinations across the United States through a codeshare partnership with Delta Air Lines.
The route will utilize WestJet’s Bombardier Q400 aircraft, which will carry 78 passengers both to and from Regina and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
The route has been in the works for some time. Previously, there were daily direct flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul run by Northwest Airlines, and then by Delta Air Lines until they pulled out in 2016.
From that point on, there had been intense lobbying from the Regina business community as well as efforts from the airport itself to try and get that routes and other American routes restored. But those efforts took a hit during the pandemic years, when travel to and from the airport ground to a halt.
Since the end of the pandemic restrictions, work resumed on trying to restore direct flights to the USA. In October, WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech met with political leaders and other stakeholders in Regina, in which regular direct flights to the United States were a prime topic from those attending.
Minister of Trade and Export Development Jeremy Harrison said his government had been working for about five years to obtain a direct international connection to a hub city in the United States.
"We have been at different points very close to having flights secured. Obviously the pandemic had a major role on the front end and the back end of the timeline of making that happen, but today is a very positive day," said Harrison.
The flights from Regina are being backed by a guarantee from the provincial government. Harrison confirmed the province is providing $500,000 a year for three years to the Regina Airport Authority to support the route.
He said this minimum revenue guarantee is similar to the one for Saskatoon Airport Authority last year when their flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul were resumed. He pointed to the importance economically from a business and tourism perspective, as well as for event hosting.
"All of this means we are going to have significant economic benefits accrue to the city and the province in a more general sense," said Harrison.
Jared Mikoch-Gerke, Director of Alliances and Airport Affairs for WestJet, said they had "heard from the community" that direct air access access was important.
"it was really about the economic development and the tourist links. The fact that there hasn't been a direct route on a daily year-round service since 2016 is incredible."
What pushed this route over the line, he said, was "really was the commitment from Regina Airport Authority, James (Bogusz) and a lot of the partners, including the province of Saskatchewan to work with us and make sure that we could do something for summer. When we build schedules, we build them either for the winter or for the summer. When we were in conversations with them about the best time to do it, summer was the best time... that's why we launched it now."
Mikoch-Gerke noted the daily flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul out of Saskatoon have been "proving very well -- right from the beginning we saw very positive bookings." He believes routes from both Saskatoon and Regina can coexist.
"It's not necessarily just about Minneapolis. As I said, we had a very strong codeshare partnership with Delta ... and as of next week. you'll be able to book in a single ticket from Regina all the way to 70 destinations. So it's not about this, the destination, it's about all of the ability to onward points not only in the United States but beyond."
Regina Airport Authority CEO James Bogusz was jubilant about the news of the Twin Cities routes, telling reporters this had been his number one priority at the airport for a while.
"This has been the number one thing as a CEO to try to resolve," said Bogusz. "And ironically it's not the airport that tries to resolve these issues, it's the airline. And I want to publicly thank WestJet for taking the opportunity to see the future of Regina's economy and jump on board at bringing in this amazing service beginning April 28... Make no mistake, we're going to keep at this, we're going to look to grow this service, and we're going to look to make sure that our capital city here in beautiful Saskatchewan is now reconnected back to the United States on a full time basis year round."