Story updated to clarify that Air Canada will turn its seasonal Toronto-Dublin service into a year-round route next year with Rouge.
WestJet has announced that it will initiate transatlantic flying with new daily seasonal service from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Dublin between 15 June and 5 October. The carrier is using a 136-seat 737-700 to fly the route.
The development is certainly a notable milestone for the low-cost carrier as explores European markets, however it is not necessarily a sign that the airline is looking to immediately expand to other cities across the Atlantic any time soon.
“In terms of strategy, it’s important to understand that we do not intend this to be the launch of a permanent transatlantic service or an expansion to Europe,” a WestJet spokesman tells Flightglobal. “This is a test for us, and we’ll use the experience and knowledge we gain from operating this service to assist us in making any future strategic decisions.”
WestJet says it is not considering any similar transatlantic routes at this time but does note that operating flights to Dublin will give it a better sense of what in can expect across the ocean.
“Dublin gives us an opportunity to gain some experience and a greater understanding of the European market,” says a WestJet spokesman. “Obviously, larger markets such as London or Paris are far more complex in nature. Dublin allows us to get a sense of what it would be like to operate in Europe.”
One limiting factor of WestJet’s reach across the Atlantic is its narrowbody fleet. Boeing says the 737-700 has a maximum range of 3,440nm (6,370km) while the Boeing 737-800 fleet is limited to 3,115nm.
While the carrier will not have any issues reaching the 1,780nm from Dublin from St. John’s shores with that aircraft, the ability to service European capitals non-stop from places like Toronto and Montreal would likely require an aircraft suited for longer stage lengths.
WestJet executives have spoken about the possibility of adding widebodies to its fleet, but they say the airline's primary focus is establishing its new regional subsidiary Encore. The airline launched in June with a fleet of Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprops.
In September, WestJet's president and chief executive Gregg Saretsky told analysts that delivery schedules would likely limit it from acquiring new widebodies for at least the next three to five years. He did note that leasing the aircraft before that could be a possibility.
The carrier will be unchallenged on routes from St. John’s to Dublin but will join several other carriers in bringing passengers from Toronto to Dublin in June. The same aircraft flying from Toronto to St. John’s will stop in the latter city to pick up passengers before going to Ireland.
Air Canada will hold the greatest available seat kilometers on the Toronto-Dublin route in June, data from FlightMaps Analytics shows. Aer Lingus and Air Transat will also operate flights between the cities.
Air Canada is turning its Toronto-Dublin service into a year-round route with its leisure carrier Rouge in May, which will operate a 264-seat Boeing 767 aircraft between the two cities. The carrier saw strong performance on Atlantic routes in the third quarter, with passenger revenues growing 11% year-over-year to Canadian dollar ($C) $819 million ($783.96 million) on a 2.1% growth in capacity.
Air Canada’s extensive international presence means that it likely will not see a big impact from WestJet’s new route, says RBC Dominion Securities analyst Walter Spracklin in a 15 November research note.
“With Air Canada holding significant slot allocation at the Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal international hubs, today’s announcement from WJA is of little consequence for Air Canada from a materiality perspective,” says Spracklin.