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Robert Deluce was greeted like a celebrity at Muskoka Airport.

“This is a fantastic welcome for Porter and a testament to the effort that has gone into making this new route a reality,” Deluce, president and CEO for Porter Airlines, told an excited crowd of nearly 200 people on June 27. “It also represents the continuing support that we’re counting on to ensure that we can not only maintain service, but that we find opportunity to grow it further.”

He and others had just arrived at the District of Muskoka-owned facility in Gravenhurst on one of the company’s 70-seat planes for its first scheduled passenger service flight to Muskoka from Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. The 10-week summer route will offer twice-weekly flights on Thursdays and Mondays or Tuesdays to Sept. 3. One-way tickets start at $71 from Toronto and $44 from Muskoka.

Deluce, who has a cottage in the area, praised regional tourism organization RTO12 Explorers’ Edge and the District of Muskoka for their efforts in building a business case and investing in the airport to make the service a reality.

Those investments included Transportation Canada agreements, Canadian Air Transport Security Authority contracts, passenger handling facilities and other infrastructure improvements. But it wasn’t until new federal legislation to allow regional airports like Muskoka’s to apply for international passenger service was approved that the plans officially moved forward.

Muskoka Airport was the first in Canada to take advantage of that legislation.

“The value of air service for smaller communities is very evident, in our experience. It means that much more to a region in terms of showcasing itself to travellers,” added Deluce. “We’re counting on this route being a success, and today is certainly a great start.”

Many area officials told this newspaper they hope to see the service operate year-round with more flights in future.

Porter flights allow connections between Muskoka and international destinations.

And a shuttle service will link domestic and international Porter passengers to accommodations and attractions in Muskoka, Parry Sound, Almaguin Highlands and Algonquin Provincial Park.