WestJet expects to make turboprop aircraft decision by mid 2012

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WestJet aims to make an aircraft selection for its new regional airline subsidiary by mid-year.

Carrier CEO Gregg Saretsky told analysts during an 8 February earnings discussion that WestJet has engaged consultancy Seabury for assistance in evaluating the 70-seat Bombardier Q400 and the ATR 72-600.

Saretsky described each turboprop model as an excellent aircraft that would fit seamlessly into WestJet's fleet. He expects WestJet would be in a position to place an order by mid-year.

Asked how WestJet views its regional aircraft purchase, carrier CFO Vito Culmone explained the airline is not tied to direct ownership or leasing, or new or used aircraft.

As WestJet moves forward in the acquisition process it will explore all options, said Culmone, noting the decision by a carrier to lease or own an aircraft "traces to availability of aircraft in the market place".

While the airline has not yet made any decisions regarding its turboprop of choice, Culmone said the current interest rate environment is a benefit to WestJet whether it chooses to lease or own the aircraft.

WestJet plans to work with Canadian authorities to gain a separate operating certificate for its regional subsidiary. Saretsky said the biggest advantage in creating a carrier under a separate certificate is keeping the cost buckets separate while reducing training events.

The airline aims to launch its new subsidiary by the end of 2013.