WestJet Encore received its first Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 today at Bombardier's plant in Toronto at Downsview Airport.
The aircraft with registration C-FOEN is the first of 20 firm orders the new regional airline will take over the next three years. A second Q400 with registration C-FHEN is also scheduled for delivery this month.
WestJet's Q400 flies past Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport ahead of its first delivery on 6 June. (WestJet)
WestJet Encore receives its first Q400 in Toronto on 6 June. (Bombardier)
"WestJetters have been looking forward to this moment since the Q400 NextGen demo aircraft touched down in Calgary for the first time last year," says Ferio Pugliese, president of WestJet Encore and executive vice-president of WestJet.
"With an unmatched balance of speed, comfort, cost efficiencies and highly regarded environmental qualities, the Q400 NextGen aircraft will also allow us to operate more efficiently as we enhance service on more routes. This versatility opens up many new possibilities and options for Canadians, as well as increases the frequency of flights to better serve travellers," he adds.
The Calgary-based regional carrier will launch operations on 24 June with two of the turboprops on routes in Western Canada.
The 78-seat Q400 is laid out in a 2-2 configuration, with an average seat pitch of 30in (762mm).
The carrier plans to receive seven of the firm orders in 2013 and 2014, four in 2015 and two in 2016.
WestJet Encore also has 25 options for the Q400 for delivery between 2014 and 2018, which gives the carrier the flexibility to end 2018 with as few as 20 and as many as 45 Q400s in the regional fleet. The carrier will make decisions on whether to take these first two options by the end of the year, WestJet's chief executive Gregg Saretsky told analysts on a January earnings call.
On 24 June, WestJet Encore will begin flights between Calgary, Alberta to Fort St. John, British Columbia; Fort St. John and Vancouver, British Columbia; Calgary to Nanaimo, British Columbia and Vancouver to Victoria, British Columbia. In September, the regional airline will start service between Brandon, Manitoba and Calgary.
WestJet says it will be adding new Encore service to cities in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan later this year, and will add flights to cities that the mainline carrier already services.
"This very versatile aircraft is efficient on short-haul missions or can use its speed to reach regional destinations farther afield, making it competitive with jets on longer sectors - a perfect fit for WestJet," says Mike Arcamone, president, Bombardier Commercial Aircraft.
WestJet plans to extend the Encore service to Western Canada and have a regional network spanning across Canada within 18 to 24 months, Saretsky told analysts at a Bank of America conference in May.
The Q400 will also eventually serve transborder markets, with possible US cities including Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Chicago and Philadelphia. The carrier must first receive US Federal Aviation Administration certification to fly within the USA, as it will have a separate certificate from the mainline operation.
WestJet has sized the regional market it can serve with the Q400 at C$2 billion ($1.93 billion), which includes domestic Canadian flights and transborder regional routes. The airline plans to stimulate demand with lower prices on routes serviced by a single carrier today, which it says could be as much as 30%-50% lower than current rates for some city pairs.
Bombardier firmed up WestJet's letter of intent for the turboprops in August 2012. The order for 20 Q400s is valued at up to $683 million at list prices.
Below is a time-lapse video WestJet posted on YouTube that documents the assembly of the first Q400.