I like Robert Deluce. The few times I have met him, he has struck me as shrewd, genial, competent, and a businessman who does something, in this case aviation, because he cares about it.
Bob Deluce has done a lot of things right recently. When he started Porter Airlines, he gambled that buying the most modern and fuel efficient turbo-prop planes available would enable him to offer attractive service from Toronto City Centre Airport. The recent rise in fuel costs has hobbled his competitors, especially Air Canada, who suddenly find the cost of feeding their jet fleet growing at an unexpected, and uncompetitive rate. Porter Air has steadily expanded, and looks set to fly to Boston as well as New York, and possibly Chicago. Robert Deluce has built something; he has moved a great many people while burning less fuel and emitting less pollution than most of his competitors. He has helped make a superb, and superbly efficient aircraft design viable.
But Bob Deluce has done more than that. He has conquered cool. When he first proposed flying from Toronto City Centre Airport, he stirred up strong opposition from an articulate and wealthy downtown community. The airport he proposed to fly from turned into a political issue. His opponents basked in their media depiction as a group of hip players, pivotal in the election of a new mayor. What a difference success, branding and time have made! The opponents of Bob Deluce's airline still gather that the foot of Bathurst Street on a Friday evening for protests, but media reports dismiss them with one of the ultimate kisses of death: ageing hippies.
I have no sympathy for Bob Deluce's opponents, because under their counterculture exterior I see a hard-edged elitism. One of their proposals artlessly referred to park they hoped would (at great expense) replace the airport as a place for "people in Tilley hats". I found it telling that anyone could, with complete lack of any apparent self-consciousness, call for the city to build a park specifically for the tiny fraction of the world's population that can spend fifty dollars on a hat. Worse, the opponents of Toronto City Centre Airport and Bob Deluce bolstered their claim that Toronto should concentrate air traffic at Toronto's main airport, Pearson International, with the claim that no residential neighbourhoods exist in the vicinity. At one public meeting, when I showed picture of the neighbourhoods that sit directly across from Pearson Airport, and a map showing the noise these neighbourhoods experience, I heard a wave of nervous laughter from the benches behind me where the opponents of the airport and Bob Deluce sat.
So expect no sympathy from me for the opponents of Bob Deluce. Still, I cannot help but wonder what "cool" has done to the process of debate. The opponents of Bob Deluce and his airline ought to lose, I believe, because they have a bad case, not because of branding, or cool, or because of their ages. I congratulate Mr. Deluce on a well earned success, and I believe in celebrating his achievement as something more than fashion and branding.