The Montreal-Beirut route is an elusive prize that Air Canada very much wants to win.

Fueled by the lobbying of Montreal’s large Lebanese expatriate and immigrant population, Air Canada has been pursuing the regulatory requirements to begin operating the route, Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu said at the IATA AGM in Cancun.

“We started the regulatory process in 2003,” Rovinescu said. However, geopolitical events intervened, and the carrier itself did not have the right equipment to make the route viable. “We are now at the stage where it looks like we can put the pin in it,” he said.

Part of the challenge of operating the route is ensuring right-level security screenings in Beirut, Rovinescu added. Air Canada is working with its Star Alliance partner Lufthansa, which operates in Beirut, to learn how to address these concerns.

The route would not be viable without the advent of the Boeing 787, he said. The aircraft is the right size and offers operating costs that make the route feasible. Air Canada’s network has been “transformed” by the 787, he said. Several routes, including Montreal–Algiers, Algeria; Vancouver–Melbourne, Australia; and Vancouver–Taipei, Taiwan, would not have made commercial sense without the aircraft, Rovinescu said.

Air Canada is halfway through its widebody aircraft fleet transformation. Before 2007, the carrier had a mix of Airbus A330s and A340s, and Boeing 767s. The 767s mostly have been transferred to its leisure carrier rouge, while the mainline carrier is reinventing its widebody aircraft fleet with a mix of Boeing 777s and 787s. It will keep “some” A330s, Air Canada president-passenger airlines Benjamin Smith said.

The carrier is expecting deliveries of nine further 787s on top of the 37 it already operates. After the last 787s are delivered, the widebody aircraft fleet plan will be complete, Smith said.

Madhu Unnikrishnan