Canada’s second largest airline is expanding its presence in the Atlantic region significantly in 2015. WestJet’s short-haul subsidiary – branded Encore – will make its first down east appearance in Fredericton in mid-April, and the new Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft will begin serving Halifax, St. John’s, Moncton, Gander, Deer Lake and Sydney later this spring and summer. In fact, by July 15 the number of daily WestJet departures from Halifax Stanfield International Airport will have increased from 12 to 19 – a jump of more than 50 percent.
The corporate name might be a little off the mark in the contemporary context, because their routes are certainly no longer concentrated in western Canada, and neither is the fleet comprised exclusively of those familiar Boeing 737 jets. Robert Palmer, the airline’s public relations manager, acknowledges that one of the secrets to WestJet’s early success was the economics of operating a single aircraft type.
“The problem was, however, that with the bigger jets you eventually run out of places to fly,” he said. Hence the decision to introduce the smaller and more nimble 78-seat Q400, which has opened up a lot of new markets that were considered too small to be economically served by the 737. One of the airline’s key objectives for this year was to extend their Encore service from coast to coast, and the new regional routes in Atlantic Canada are fulfilling that plan.
In addition to the twice-daily service between Fredericton and Toronto starting April 15, there will be once-a-day year-round flights to and from Halifax serving Sydney, Deer Lake, and Gander. (Gander will also be getting daily seasonal 737 service to and from Toronto, starting on May 3.) Existing jet service out of Halifax to Toronto, St. John’s and Ottawa will be augmented by Encore flights, and there will also be a new daily return flight between Moncton and Ottawa using the Q400 aircraft. Most of the new Encore services will launch on July 15.
Atlantic Canadians should be able to enjoy lower fares as well as increased service as a result of these WestJet initiatives. Mr. Palmer says past experience indicates a typical reduction of about 30 percent in the cost of flying when a new competitor enters a market previously served by only one carrier. Furthermore, he says, WestJet guests will find the Q400 to be an exceptionally quiet and comfortable aircraft.
Meanwhile, building on the success of last year’s initial foray into trans-Atlantic service, WestJet will inaugurate its new seasonal daily flights between Halifax and Glasgow on May 29. The 737-700 aircraft assigned to this route has 136 seats. The St. John’s-Dublin flight – which Mr. Palmer describes as the most successful new service in the airline’s history – will be back this year with a longer six-month operating season beginning on May 1. Overall load factor last season on that route was better than 90 percent, an achievement the airline spokesman described as “quite extraordinary.”