September 21, 2021

Minne Sotais

Politics Loaded For Bear

What Happened To Canada’s Zoom Airlines?

In the last 18 months, the name ‘Zoom’ has become synonymous with communications in the ‘new normal.’ However, at the start of the 21st century, the word also gave its name to a low-cost Canadian airline. Based in Ottawa, Ontario, Zoom Airlines operated scheduled and charter services to various leisure destinations between 2002 and 2008.

Zoom’s largest aircraft were its Boeing 767-300ERs. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

In the beginning

Zoom Airlines came into being in May 2002, and was the brainchild of Scottish brothers Hugh and John Boyle. The pair had decades of experience in the leisure travel sector, having entered the scene with a startup known as Falcon Holidays in the 1980s. The pair eventually sold the brand on, and formed Direct Holidays in 1991.

Direct Holidays itself was sold to the MyTravel Group in 1998, with Hugh Boyle then moving to Canada to form GO Travel Direct Vacations. This company operated a streamlined business model, which meant that customers didn’t have to book through travel agents. In 2002, the Boyles then took this to the next level by founding their own airline, Zoom.

Zoom Airlines Boeing 767
Zoom’s aircraft all bore the names of Canadian cities. Meanwhile, the UK-based sister company’s 767s were named after British cities, namely Brighton and London. Photo: RussellHarryLee via Flickr

A leisure-focused airline

Zoom aimed to fill a gap in the Canadian leisure market. The carrier flew to a range of transatlantic destinations, as well as locations in Asia, the Caribbean, and elsewhere in the Americas. From 2006, some of these flights were in codeshare with Flyglobespan.

From Ottawa and Toronto (both in Ontario), Zoom served all four UK countries. England saw service in London and Manchester, while Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales each had one airport with a Zoom presence (Belfast, Glasgow, and Cardiff respectively). Elsewhere in Europe, Zoom also flew to Amsterdam, Paris, and Rome.

Not just transatlantic routes

Zoom also flew to destinations closer to home. The US leisure hotspots of Fort Lauderdale, New York, and San Diego all saw the airline make an appearance. From Canada itself, Zoom didn’t just fly out of Ontario, but also from the states of Alberta (Calgary), British Columbia (Vancouver), Manitoba (Winnipeg), Nova Scotia (Halifax), and Québec (Montréal).

Zoom Airlines Boeing 767
Zoom’s 767s had over 60 premium economy seats. Photo: Adrian Pingstone via Wikimedia Commons

For Canadians seeking a more tropical trip away, Zoom served five Caribbean destinations: Barbados, Bermuda, Grenada, Jamaica, and Trinidad. Further to the south, Guyana’s Cheddi Jagan International Airport also saw the airline’s all-blue planes make appearances. Finally, Zoom’s network even stretched as far afield as Thailand, in the form of Phuket.

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A solid presence in the UK

2006 was a key year for Zoom. November that year saw it launch a codeshare agreement with Scottish leisure carrier Flyglobespan. This allowed Zoom to operate two of Flyglobespan’s three weekly Manchester-Toronto flights, among other partnerships. This lasted for the 2006/07 winter season, before Flyglobespan shelved its Canadian services.

Zoom Airlines Boeing 757
Zoom also flew narrowbodies such as the Boeing 757. Photo: abdallahh via Wikimedia Commons

However, the agreement with Flyglobespan was not the only venture that saw Zoom increase its British footprint in 2006. Indeed, in the summer of that year, a £5.7 million investment from the Bank of Scotland catalyzed the startup of a UK-based sister airline.

Allowing for 15 years of inflation, this is the equivalent of £7.8 million, or $10.7 million, today. According to ATDB.aero, the Gatwick-based carrier, which was also known as Zoom Airlines UK, commenced operations the following year, in June 2007. It operated two Boeing 767-300ERs, as well as a 757-200. It leased the latter of these from Air Finland.

Zoom Airlines Limited’s first routes saw the new carrier serve Bermuda and New York. Later in 2007, it confirmed that Fort Lauderdale and San Diego would follow in the summer of 2008. Operating out of Belfast, Cardiff, and London Gatwick, the airline also served the French island of Corsica, as well as flying charters to Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

Zoom Airlines Boeing 757 Getty
2006 saw Zoom take multiple steps to further establish itself in the UK market. Photo: Getty Images

The end of the line

2006’s UK expansions heralded a potentially promising future for Zoom. However, despite this growth, its story came to an end just two years later. The collapse began on August 27th, 2008. At this point, an aircraft was stranded in Calgary after its owner canceled Zoom’s lease agreement. The airline’s debts prevented it from being refueled.

According to the BBC, the cause of Zoom’s debts had been the rising cost of jet fuel. This had added £27.3 million ($50 million at the time) a year to its fuel costs. Zoom’s business model reportedly relied on the cost of oil being around $70-80 per barrel.

By July 2008, this figure had hit $147. The recession in the mid to late-2000s rendered such high operating costs unsustainable for the carrier, which had 450 Canadian employees, and a further 260 in the UK. Authorities held other planes in Cardiff and Glasgow.

Zoom Airlines Airbus A320 Monarch Livery
Zoom leased an Airbus A320 from Monarch. It wore a hybrid livery during this time, complete with the UK leisure carrier’s yellow and black cheatline. Photo: John Davies via Wikimedia Commons

A day later, on August 28th, 2008, Zoom declared it was filing for administration and ceasing operations, due to its financial struggles. Simultaneously, Zoom Airlines Limited, the carrier’s UK-based sister company, also filed for bankruptcy under British law.

A small, Boeing-dominated fleet

Almost all of Zoom’s aircraft were Boeing designs, apart from an Airbus A320-200 briefly leased from Monarch. According to data from ch-aviation.com, its most common model from the US planemaker was the 767-300ER. Zoom operated five of these twin-engine widebodies, alongside a pair of single-aisle Boeing 757-200s that dated back to 1990.

Zoom’s former 757s are now in storage in Goodyear, Arizona and Knock, Ireland. Meanwhile, the leased Monarch A320 was scrapped in Tupelo, Mississippi in August 2014. However, all five 767s remain active today. Four now fly freight for Atlas Air (one), Cargojet Airways (two), and Kalitta Air (one). Meanwhile, the fifth flies passengers for Omni Air International.

Did you ever fly with Zoom Airlines or its UK-based sister company? If so, where did you travel to, and on what aircraft type? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.