WestJet is targeting launching the new regional carrier in the third quarter of 2013, a move with which Saretsky is aiming to “recreate a little bit of history”. The regional subsidiary will start out along the same lines as WestJet by operating a single aircraft type, starting small, then building strength by growing the network out of large centres.
WestJet expects to receive its first Q400 in June 2013 and will likely receive one a month to end 2013 with seven Q400s. It will receive another seven or eight aircraft in 2014, says Saretsky. The airline has ordered 20 aircraft, as well as 25 options, from Bombardier.
Eventually, the regional carrier will have two bases – Calgary and Toronto. As to which city will be the first base, it is still anyone’s guess, although Saretsky indicates there could be greater opportunities in the east as the population there is bigger. “Probably the first seven aircraft will go into whichever location that gets selected to start first, whether that be Toronto or whether that be Calgary. And then the following year, when the next seven or eight aircraft arrive, we’ll go to the other side of the country.”
With the new regional carrier, WestJet hopes to open up markets that are too small to be served efficiently with the carrier’s 737s.
The airline recently played host to more than 30 small communities that arrived in Calgary to pitch themselves as possible destinations to the airline. Saretsky estimates that as many as 40 such small communities would benefit from WestJet service.
Besides new destinations, the regional carrier will open up flights between cities already in WestJet’s network, but which do not have service between them, such as Regina and Winnipeg. WestJet will also use the new subsidiary to improve its flight schedule, such as adding turboprop-operated services during off-peak hours on existing routes that might not require jets during those periods.
Saretsky is also not ruling out deploying the regional carrier on flights in the hotly contested air traffic corridor between Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, also known as the Eastern Triangle.
WestJet expects its new regional carrier to lower fares and stimulate demand in some of its markets that have been long monopolised by Air Canada. Pointing out that the airline’s jet operations had helped lower fares in certain communities after they started service, Saretsky says: “We still believe there is a decent amount of market stimulation available in the regional space.”