The Gazette - Mysterious Odyssey Airlines banking on CSeries

21 June 2013

By François Shalom, The Gazette June 21, 2013

PARIS — At 33, Adam Scott may need all his youthful energy and resourcefulness.

The Oakville, Ont., native is the founder and CEO of Odyssey Airlines, a startup carrier — or more accurately, a would-be startup carrier — that hopes to do business out of London’s City Airport, close to the capital’s large financial district. His plan is very much à la Robert Deluce, founder and CEO of Porter Airlines based at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

Odyssey will be geared specifically to well-heeled travellers, businesspeople and “time-restricted individuals,” Scott said in an interview at the Paris air show. 

The list of airlines that fell victim trying to cater exclusively to that segment is long: Eos Airlines, MAXjet Airways, Silverjet, L’Avion, Midwest Airlines, Virgin Atlantic all-business service and, in Canada, Roots Air — which lasted all of two months. Big airlines like British Airways (which acquired L’Avion and operates it as OpenSkies), Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa operate a few all-business-class flights, but they have deep pockets — and it isn’t known if those routes are profitable.

“It’s a project, but it’s going to work,” an undeterred Scott said. “It’s been in the works for nearly three years now. ... And we are a senior team of experienced individuals who have, collectively, more than 150 years of airline experience.”

The project came to light in 2011, when an undisclosed European customer for 10 Bombardier Inc. CSeries was discovered by Reuters news agency to be Odyssey Airlines. But Odyssey was not formed yet, its executives could not be found, and individuals listed as being connected to the airline hotly denied they were.

The airline is still on paper and the project is still shrouded in a bit of cloak-and-dagger intrigue, with hard information doled out sparingly in dribs and drabs by its circumlocutory founder. To the simple question of how many people are involved, for instance, Scott replied: “More than a handful.” He would not identify his partners, nor say which airlines they came from. He is the sole shareholder of Calypso Aviation Ltd., a British firm that rents “air passenger transport equipment.”

Still, Scott emerged from the shadows this week at a CSeries event where a Bombardier spokesperson said he wished to speak with The Gazette, which published an article on Odyssey in 2011 — an interview that began with his request to turn a tape recorder off (he quickly relented).

“All I can say is that we are looking to establish ourselves and start operations as early as possible. But I’m not going into details in terms of what our market plans are.”

That may be because Odyssey could step on some very powerful toes.

British Airways operates two Airbus 318s between London City and New York’s JFK in a 32-seat business configuration. The step-up that Odyssey apparently hopes will make its success will be to operate non-stop flights in both directions between London City and the east coast of North America — possibly even to Montreal, said Scott, who has lived half his life abroad and calls himself a “British Canadian.”

The westbound BA flights must refuel in Shannon while the CS100s that Odyssey plans to fly can reach North America non-stop, a major time gain. But Scott noted he did not plan on flying from London City to JFK, avoiding “going head to head with any incumbents.”

Scott said in an email Friday that previous projects failed because they flew “older and significantly less efficient aircraft vs. what the CS100 offers Odyssey ... operated to and from secondary and less advantageous airports,” and died because of bad timing.

Odyssey will not “resurrect or replicate ... any of those strategies.” 

Actually, Odyssey is a step ahead of Porter in one respect. The latter is an all-turboprop carrier, while Scott expects to fly 10 CSeries CS100s, the same jet that Deluce is trying to convince Toronto City Council to allow at Billy Bishop in the face of mounting odds — especially if Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug, the projects’ biggest boosters, are forced out in a scandal.

“I have a good relationship with Mr. Deluce,” Scott said. “I’ve spent time with him both in Toronto and here.” (Told that at least one Toronto city councillor says he has enough votes to block his CSeries jet project, Deluce told The Gazette Tuesday: “We don’t take anything for granted. Nor should he.”)

Scott said he picked the CS100 for its ability to open up city pairs with restricted airports — to take off from short runways like London City’s, for example, or do steep approach landings. He would not name such airports.

“The crux of what we want to do is to offer our customers the ability to see new markets, to open up new markets of business.” 

“In various configurations we’re looking at, there is the possibility of getting significant range, which as a London-based operation, could open up markets in northeast U.S. and Canada, anywhere in Europe, and then potentially further afield, whether in the Middle East, etc.” 

Scott said he had “financial support” — unspecified — “and we’ll be working tirelessly over the next months to make sure we have everything in place for a launch as soon as is reasonably possible.”

“The key for us is to put the customer at the centre of everything we do, and a lot of that is about providing exceptional service, but also with time considerations. Basically, to bring aviation back into a good experience.”

Asked about the hush-hush vibes around Odyssey, Scott replied that it is for “very obvious reasons.”

“There’s a competitive dynamic to this. We believe we have a very interesting and a very solid business model. It’s our intention to capitalize on that. There are obviously sensitive commercial details and plans that we’ll be pleased to discuss in more detail, but at the appropriate time. And today is not the appropriate time.”