WestJet focuses on Western Canada with more routes and connections

That will mean removing some of the airline’s regional routes in Eastern Canada, CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech said.

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WestJet is poised to return to its roots to meet pent-up travel demand.

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New CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech outlined his vision for the Calgary-based airline on Thursday morning, focusing on growth as a low-cost carrier, increasing its presence in Western Canada, investing more in travel sun and pleasure through its impending acquisition of Sunwing, and investing in technology to improve the customer experience and simplify internal processes.

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Von Hoensbroech said it was about playing to their strengths, especially coming out of the pandemic.

“We have scars from the pandemic that we have to deal with, so we have to be very careful about where we put our investments,” he said. “We want to grow, we want to be profitable, and we can do that and after all, we have to deploy our assets where they bring the most value to Canadians.”

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Von Hoensbroech started on February 15 and has spent the last 100 days assessing the airline, understanding its employees and developing a way forward.

He said the airline would pause further investment in its 787 Dreamliner fleet to instead focus on adding 30 Boeing 737 MAX planes to its fleet in the coming years, including 15 in 2022. WestJet is working on a another substantial narrow body order to further expand this segment.

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This does not mean the end of their foray into the vast transcontinental sector. The CEO said they would base their fleet of seven Dreamliners out of Western Canada. Their current European routes will also continue as planned.

WestJet will maintain its premium offerings, focusing on the upscale leisure and premium business segment in the West.

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The company will also restructure its regional fleet of De Haviland Q400 aircraft to focus on Western Canada in an effort to eliminate operational complexity and prioritize connectivity in the West. This will mean removing some of their regional routes in Eastern Canada. In doing so, Van Hoensbroech said they would likely increase the number of regional routes in the west as well as the frequency of their flight.

WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech.
WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech. Photo by Gavin Young/Postmedia

“Flying a Q400 turboprop 14 times a day between Toronto and Montreal (round trip combined) is not regional flying,” he said. “It’s being with the wrong plane in the wrong market. And that’s what we fix.

These routes will still be served, but likely thanks to the expansion of its 737 fleet.

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These changes will be phased in over a long period of time and will begin to appear in 2023.

WestJet will also increase nonstop west to east flights using 737s.

Von Hoensbroech said despite the restructuring, they are still in hiring mode, currently sitting 40% below pre-pandemic staffing levels. Although they are growing, the CEO said their 787 flight crews in the East would be impacted by centralizing these flights from Calgary. He expected this to be partially offset by the increased number of 737s.

WestJet has returned to pre-pandemic traffic levels in Western Canada, but continues to catch up in the East, including a 25% delay to Toronto.

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He wasn’t sure how much more affordable flights would be made for their customers, but it wouldn’t just be through their ultra-low-cost airline Swoop.

By taking these steps, they will put their operations in better financial order and reduce their operational costs, which in turn could reduce the cost of a ticket. The industry is also struggling with rising fuel costs, but WestJet is responding by introducing more 737 MAX jets that are more fuel efficient while increasing productivity. The airline also faces rising input costs, such as airport improvement fees and Nav Canada fees, both of which have risen significantly.

“We have certain factors that allow us to offer more affordable prices in the end,” said Von Hoensbroech. “Our ambition is to be more affordable than our competitors and we will achieve that.”

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The airline cracked the code for expensive air travel in Canada in the mid-1990s by offering streamlined services but cheap and enjoyable flights. Their backbone was customer service served with a joke. Canadians reacted and air travel increased at a rapid pace.

Over the past few years, however, their ticket prices have been largely on par with fellow 800-pound gorilla Air Canada, creating room for more competition in the ultra-low flight market. cost, especially in the West, with airlines like Lynx, Flair and soon Jetlines coming online.

Calgary-based aviation analyst Rick Erickson called the plan “pragmatic” and will refocus the airline on its affordability strengths.

“I also see that they are really building a sort of fortress in the west,” he said. “I assume (the East) is a difficult environment for them to make progress when there are other fruits at hand across the country. And I see them being cautious as we know WestJet is and has been in the past.

He said the strategy is great news for Calgary, in particular, and further strengthens for international cross-border flights and sunny destinations.

“If I’m the Calgary Airport Authority, you gotta give this plan a big Yahoo!” Erickson said. “This is exactly what the Calgary airport needs.”

[email protected]

Twitter: @JoshAldrich03

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