Porter Airlines Chair Donald Carty said Canadian airlines like Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd. probably would have been better off grounding more flights throughout the pandemic to better manage costs.

Carty believes that if the airlines knew how long the COVID-19 pandemic would last and how long it would take for the government to provide financial support, they might have chosen to halt more flying.

“They’ve been flying around with airplanes that are far from full and not sufficiently full to pay for the operation,” said Carty, who also was the CEO of American Airlines from 1998 to 2003, in a broadcast interview Friday.

Ottawa and Air Canada reached a deal last month for a $5.9 billion financial aid package through the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF) program. The deal awarded the federal government with $500 million in equity in Canada's biggest airline, the first time it has taken a stake in the company since the 1980s.

Porter Airlines suspended operations in March 2020 and has delayed the restart of flights multiple times throughout the pandemic.

“We needed to preserve this airline for our team members and guests to come back to. So we grounded the entire airline and that was the right financial decision absent of financial aid to keep it going,” Carty said.

He noted the airline has also had discussions with the federal government about financial support and how to revive the industry. Porter tentatively plans to resume flights on June 21.

“I have no doubt Porter will back on its feet,” he said.

When it comes to how travel will look in a post-pandemic world, Carty expects huge demand for leisure travel but continued weakness for business travellers.

“I think we’ve seen a permanent shift in the amount of business travel there will be,” he said.

Carty said airlines will be forced to reshape their networks amid a shift in consumer travelling habits, with more airplanes scheduled for vacation destinations and fewer airplanes in high-density business markets.