WestJet continues to tweak its network and its product in an effort to improve efficiency and attract more business travellers, the carrier's chief financial officer Vito Culmone says today.
Speaking to investors at the RBC Capital Markets Global Industrials Conference in Las Vegas, Culmone says the airline has the fleet flexibility needed to launch service to new markets, connect existing markets and improve network efficiency.
That flexibility, he says, will come from Boeing 737s the company currently has on order and from growth at its new regional subsidiary Encore.
Earlier this year WestJet agreed through a letter of intent to purchase 65 Boeing 737 Max twin jets, including 40 Max 8 and 25 Max 7 variants. Those aircraft will be delivered starting September 2017.
With the deal, WestJet, which currently has a fleet of 103 737s, will have 92 aircraft on order.
Culmone says WestJet's fleet plan and the option of returning leased aircraft provides wide leeway on how many aircraft WestJet will fly in the next 20 years. By 2023, the carrier could have as few as 120 aircraft or as many as 165, he says.
In addition to 737s, Encore, launched in June, is steadily acquiring more Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprops, which it is deploying on western Canadian routes.
Encore currently has four of the models, but has orders for 20 and options for 25.
New aircraft will allow WestJet to increase service to business markets and provide more frequent flights to markets it already serves, Culmone says.
In addition, he says WestJet's increasing number of partnerships with other airlines has been key to recent growth.
In 2013, WestJet began to codeshare with China Southern Airlines and Air France, bringing its number of codeshare partners to 10, Culmone adds. In addition, WestJet has interline agreements with 24 carriers, according to its website.
Culmone notes that in April the carrier began flying from Calgary to Dallas-Fort Worth International airport, where codeshare partner American Airlines has a hub. And last year WestJet launched flights from Toronto to New York's LaGuardia airport, where codeshare carrier Delta Air Lines has a stronghold.
Those partnerships will help WestJet's systemwide capacity increase by 7.5% to 8.5% in 2013, compared to 2012, Culmone says.
WestJet's decision to add premium economy seats to its aircraft will also attract business travellers, says Culmone.
"We are very pleased as to what we've seen from a demand perspective and the feedback we have gotten from our guests," Culmone says of WestJet's premium economy product, launched in August.