The pilot is Chris Hogue, and he charges between $1,500 and $2,000 for up to five passengers
You launched Cottage Air this spring. Was running your own flight service always the plan?
Definitely. I got my commercial pilot’s licence in 2001, but then 9/11 happened, leading to a plunge in air travel and widespread layoffs. So I got a job in the automotive industry and kept up with my flying as my side passion. Covid-19 has been a tragedy, but it has also created a pretty strong market for a domestic charter airline service. People aren’t travelling outside the country, and they’re spending a lot more time at cottages. So I decided to go for it.
Who is your typical customer?
I just booked a long contract with a woman who wants to fly every Friday afternoon from Toronto to her cottage in Muskoka with her two dogs, and then home every Sunday. I’m also booking a lot of Bay Street guys who are mostly working from the cottage but have to be in the office once a week. On top of that, I have real estate agents booking me to take clients to a bunch of properties in one day, and developers who are trying to sell condos up here and want me to take prospective buyers on a tour of the area. I just spoke with an interior designer who wants to fly her clients to their cottage for a sort of red-carpet big reveal kind of thing. I’m also taking bookings from groups of friends who want to fly up for a golf day, or families who are looking for a one-time special occasion. A lot of people have saved on other expenses and they’re looking to spend. They’re buying boats and Jet Skis and they’re taking planes.
What’s the in-flight experience like?
The plane is six-seat de Havilland Beaver. It’s got Wi-Fi and charging ports, and complimentary local beers and caramel-covered pecans. For Torontonians, we do pickups at any of the three airports—Pearson, Billy Bishop, Buttonville—and drop-offs are right to your dock or resort or golf course. To Muskoka, it’s 40 minutes from Buttonville, which is a lot better than sitting in traffic for four hours.
How much does all of this convenience cost?
A flight from Toronto to Muskoka runs between $1,500 and $2,000. And that’s for up to five passengers. For $300 a pop, you’re at your cottage in 40 minutes. It’s time or money, and after this year, people are realizing the value of their time.