On 24 June, WestJet Encore will make its debut on regional routes within western Canada with a fleet of 78-seat Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprops, a development that has caused Air Canada to introduce the aircraft type to that market before the carrier has even launched.
The Q400 was absent from the western Canadian market until Air Canada began flying it there in February. However, the aircraft type has been used extensively in eastern Canada, especially on routes between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
Porter Airlines started flying 70-seat Q400s out of its hub at Billy Bishop Toronto City airport in 2006, and Air Canada was eventually able to gain 30 slots there to compete with a shuttle service to Montreal operated by Sky Regional.
WestJet's goal is to stimulate demand on regional routes within Canada, in part by offering competitive pricing. To do this, it will be adding new Q400 routes that its parent carrier currently does not serv. For example, the Calgary-Fort St. John, British Columbia, launch route is now only serviced by regional operator Central Mountain Air.
The new regional aircraft will also offer WestJet a means to better utilise its 737 capacity on higher-traffic routes. One example is the Calgary-Nanaimo, British Columbia, route, which WestJet flies 6 times per week now with its Boeing 737-700s but will increase to daily service with the Q400 on 24 June.
Planned WestJet Encore routes
||Calgary at 4 p.m.
||Fort St. John at 4:39 p.m.
||Fort St. John at 5:10 p.m.
||Vancouver at 6:55 p.m.
||Vancouver at 7:25 p.m.
||Victoria at 7:55 p.m.
||Victoria at 7:15 a.m.
||Vancouver at 7:44 a.m.
||Vancouver at 8:15 a.m.
||Fort St. John at 9:59 a.m.
||Fort St. John at 10:30 a.m.
||Calgary at 1 p.m.
||Calgary at 11 a.m.
||Nanaimo at 11:43 a.m.
||Nanaimo at 12:30 p.m.
||Calgary at 2:57 p.m.
||Calgary at 9:50 a.m.
||Brandon at 12:50 p.m.
||Brandon at 1:20 p.m.
||Calgary at 2:35 p.m.
Days after WestJet announced the name of its new regional carrier on 11 October 2012, Air Canada advertised that it would start adding 74-seat Q400 service to western Canada ahead of its rival's launch operated by regional partner Jazz. After launching service from Calgary to Fort McMurray, Alberta, and Saskatoon and Regina, Saskatchewan, on 1 February, the carrier announced more routes the same day. The carrier competes with WestJet's narrowbody fleet on nearly all of the routes, with a handful of exceptions.
New Air Canada Q400 flying
|Vancouver-Fort St. John
Here is what the western Canada regional market will look like based on Q400 flying when Encore launches in June. One should note that none of the routes had been flown with that aircraft type a year earlier. Air Canada's routes are in red, while WestJet Encore appears in blue.
Q400 routes in western Canada: June 2013
As Air Canada moves east to west, WestJet Encore will be taking the opposite approach and expanding to eastern Canada. Within 18 to 24 months, the regional carrier will have a network spanning from Vancouver to Newfoundland, chief executive Gregg Saretsky said during an investor presentation on 16 May.
This is a snapshot of the Q400 routes available in eastern Canada in June 2013, flown by Porter Airlines in yellow and Air Canada in red.
Q400 routes in eastern Canada: June 2013
In the past, Porter Airlines has mentioned the possibility of looking at a new hub city, but it is presently focused on expansion plans with the Bombardier CS100 for long-range flying. The carrier does anticipate moving west with the CSeries, but the 2,950nm (5,460km) range of the aircraft is better leveraged for transcontinental and long-range flying to cities as far away as Vancouver and Calgary from its Toronto city hub.
Porter's priority appears to be gaining the necessary approvals from the city of Toronto, Canadian and Toronto Port Authority to fly the jet aircraft out of the city airport instead of building up a regional network out west like its main competitors - at least for the near future.
Based on Encore's anticipated ramp-up of its Q400 fleet, the type could be bigger than that of Air Canada Express by 2018, if it takes all 25 options. Within Air Canada Express, regional partner Jazz Aviation flies 21 Q400s and Sky Regional has five for the flights from Toronto to Montreal. Jazz has five more options that it could execute from its original order, after converting six of 15 to firm orders at the Farnborough Air Show last year.
|Q400s in Canada
|Air Canada Express*
*Air Canada Express includes 21 Q400s and 5 options for Jazz Aviation, and five additional Q400s in service at Sky Regional.