WestJet spreads its wings – Encore

Bombardier Q400 flying
WestJet Encore’s new Bombardier Q400 aircraft will soon become a familiar sight across Atlantic Canada.

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.”

Advocacy in Action

The Cape Breton rail issue has occupied much of TAA’s attention in recent months. Several volunteers have devoted many long hours to the cause, participating in community events and appearing at a public hearing in Sydney.

Although the passenger rail outlook has greatly improved in recent months, we have been relentless in our efforts to maintain the momentum.  We believe that TAA has earned a measure of respect and credibility with the new management team at VIA Rail, and have had some very productive discussions with senior officers at the Crown corporation.  Our upcoming AGM will give members an excellent opportunity to meet VIA’s new general manager for the region.

We’ve also been involved with the statutory review of the Canada Transportation Act that’s currently underway.  Iain Dunlop and Michael Perry joined your president participating in a working session in Fredericton at the invitation of New Brunswick Transportation Minister Roger Melanson.  Our input hopefully will form part of a joint submission from the four Atlantic transportation ministers.  A key TAA recommendation was that the act should seek to maximize use of rail infrastructure to benefit all Canadians – in the safest possible manner.  Meanwhile, TAA director Clark Morris took the initiative to submit a personal brief to the review panel.  Information on the review process is available online at: http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/ctareview2014/discussion-paper.html.

Communication has been ongoing with elected representatives on the federal, provincial and municipal levels, as we seek to strengthen our voice on the myriad transportation issues confronting our region.  But the need to grow our membership base has never been more important.  More volunteers are urgently needed to fuel our efforts at reaching out to the general public.

– Ted Bartlett

The Annual General Meeting

Please mark your calendar now, and plan to attend our AGM, to be held in Moncton on Saturday, 25 April, at 1400.  The CN Pensioners Association has offered the use of their facilities at 1 Curry Street.  Our featured guest speaker will be Susan Williams, recently appointed general manager of eastern services with VIA Rail Canada.  The agenda includes annual reports and financial statements, appointment of an auditor, election of a board of directors, and any other business that may arise.

Current members of Transport Action Atlantic may nominate (with their consent) any other member in good standing for a position on the board.  It is the board’s responsibility to choose the executive officers.  Nominations should be made in advance of the meeting, and may be submitted by mail to the TAA Nominating Committee, P.O.Box 268, Dartmouth NS  B2Y 3Y3, or by e-mail to donlinmacleod@ns.sympatico.ca.

The central location is a reasonable day trip from most communities in the Maritimes, and we are hoping for an excellent turnout.  It represents an excellent opportunity to engage in discussion of passenger rail with a senior VIA official.