TOURISM MATTERS: Westjet connecting the dots
By Adrian Loveridge | Tue, May 15, 2012 - 12:00 AM
It is certainly not all doom and gloom in the travel and tourism industry.
Take WestJet, the Canadian low-cost carrier, as an example.
This April it posted record load factors, achieving an average of 86.2 per cent and a revenue passenger miles growth of 8.2 per cent over last year, together with record first-quarter profits.
The airline handled over 120 000 more passengers in April 2012, hitting a total of 1.48 million for the month. During the same three months, Air Canada’s losses climbed to CAN$210 million (BDS$413.7 million).
WestJet’s founder, Englishman Clive Beddoe, made it no secret when the airline was formed in 1996 that it was modelled on the highly successful United States SouthWest Airlines, adopting the single aircraft type with different variations.
However, the current president and chief executive Gregg Saretsky has moved away from this business plan to place a firm order for 20, and options on another 25 of the Bombardier-made Q400 turbo-prop planes.
In his words, it’s to “connect the dots”.
WestJet also considered the European-made ATR, but ultimately chose the NextGeneration Q400’s based on their “combination of seating, speed and range, given the distance the planes will need to fly to reach some of the smaller communities to be served”.
And it’s easy to see the attraction of this particular Dash 8 version – the fastest at 414 mph (360 knots), a range of 1567 miles and a passenger capacity of up to 78 seats. Small wonder then it’s been the best seller, with 428 orders up to May 1, 2012.
The regional services will be phased in as the airline takes delivery over the next six years.
While the new destinations have yet to be disclosed, it could certainly help Barbados open up and expand our Canadian market share.
During the time Sean Durfy was CEO, I wrote to him, asking if he would consider operating a direct Winnipeg/Barbados service. All three types of the B737 they operate can easily do it nonstop, a great circle distance of 3 304 miles or less than seven hours’ flying time.
He was gracious enough to respond, albeit not positively, but perhaps then the timing was not right. Why Winnipeg?
Well, currently Calgary (3 997) and Edmonton (4 037 miles) are out of the operating range of the fleet they have.
With a metropolitan population of about 770 000 people, Winnipeg is the next best option. If Brandon, Manitoba’s second-largest city, is serviced by the new turboprops as indicated, this will add another 53 000 passenger potential.
But it’s a lot more than about just the numbers. It is the demographics – long winters, a predominance of farming communities unable to work the land for extended periods of the year.
Add the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan – the world’s second-largest producer of potash – and the wealth it creates, and it makes even more sense.
I am sure that both Regina and Saskatoon will be included in the deployment of the additions to the fleet.
It also seems inconceivable that we could not fill at least one 119-seater plane once a week from November to May.
Hopefully over the next few months, our tourism policymakers will be carefully tracking any announced new routes and destinations with the connecting opportunities they may present from emerging markets.
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