ANY hopes of Terrace being at the top of WestJet’s new destination list were quashed yesterday with the announcement that Fort St. John and Nanaimo would be the first destinations for the airline’s new Encore service to and from smaller communities in British Columbia.
But WestJet wants to make it clear that these are just the first of many announcements to come, and they expect to announce at least one more destination by the year’s end.
“We haven’t decided when that will be, or how many communities will be on that list, but we certainly know that we will be adding additional communities in the years to come,” said WestJet spokesperson Robert Palmer. “The important thing for people to remember is that this is the first two of a very long list of communities that will receive WestJet service.”
“We’re looking at communities like Terrace and other communities across Canada who did come to Calgary in June and let us know is no uncertain terms that they were very interested in receiving our service,” he said. “Now it’s just a matter of taking additional aircraft to allow us to serve more communities.”
Right now, WestJet operates using 737s, planes too large to service most smaller communities and be economically viable. But the regional destinations will be serviced using new, smaller Q400s, that seat 78 people. Twenty planes are on order right now, with the first two to be delivered in June and a third in August. And there are options for another 25, which means the fleet could grow to 45 over the next five or six years.
But until those planes are delivered, they can’t have any more destinations.
“That just takes time, you can’t speed them up, you can’t go to Bombardier or Boeing or any of the other aircraft manufacturers,” said Palmer. “They don’t have a lot – it’s not like buying a car where you can drive if home the same day – you have to order these things in advance and they come down the assembly line, so you take delivery of them when they’re ready.”
It also takes time to decide on new service areas – the community’s population, outlying trading area, the health and the nature of the local economy, the infrastructure, the prior history of other aircare carriers in the market, all of these factors are considered.
“What was the propensity of the local market to travel, and what is the breakdown of business and leisure travellers in the community,” he said. “In the case of Fort St. John, there’s a very strong business market going back and forth there with respect to the oil and gas industry, but there’s also a tourism industry. In the case of Nanaimo, Nanaimo has a very strong connection between central Vancouver Island and Alberta. There’s a very large migrant worker population and there’s also a large leisure population that goes back and forth too.”
And for the cities that do make the destination list, it means a modest amount of jobs, too.
“Not huge numbers,” said Palmer. “Obviously if you’re only doing one or two flights a day, it’s roughly half a dozen [jobs]… that would likely be the impact if we did serve a place like Terrace – and I’m not saying we are or we aren’t, because that’s yet to be decided.”
Earlier this month it was announced that the Terrace Airport Society had entered into a non-disclosure agreement with WestJet in December. Palmer says this is standard procedure and there are many communities under the same agreement.