WestJet plans to double capacity growth in 2013

Montreal
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Calgary's WestJet plans to boost available seat miles (ASMs) by 7.5 to 8.5% in fiscal 2013, said Vito Culmone, WestJet's chief financial officer at the J.P. Morgan, Aviation, Transportation and Defense conference on 4 March.

New capacity will be driven by WestJet Encore's initiation of service in June and the additional seats installed on WestJet's Boeing 737-800 aircraft as part of a premium economy reconfiguration.

New seats in the Boeing 737-800 will contribute about 1% available seat mile (ASM) growth for the airline in 2013, said Culmone. The carrier is about 75% finished with retrofitting the premium economy seats on its 737 fleet and expects to complete the installation by the end of the first quarter, he said.

WestJet is increasing the number of seats on its Boeing 737-800s from 166 to 174 once the retrofit is complete, said Culmone. The 24 premium economy seats will be laid out in four rows with a 36in seat pitch. The carrier had 18 Boeing 737-800s in service at the end of 2012.

This configuration is also being installed on WestJet's 13 Boeing 737-600s and 69 -700s, but the seat counts on those aircraft will remain the same at 119 and 136 seats, respectively. Economy seats will have a pitch of 31 or 32in when the premium seating is installed.

WestJet now has 101 Boeing 737s in its fleet. It plans to receive four more deliveries in 2013, made up of three -800s and one -700, according to Flightglobal's Ascend Online database.

The Canadian carrier plans to roll out a new, three-tiered bundled fare system after the configurations are complete.

WestJet began the seat installation project in August 2012, partnering with British Columbia's Kelowna Flightcraft to perform the seat reconfigurations. The timeline for completing the installations was extended from the end of 2012 to the beginning of 2013 due to a delay in gaining regulatory approval for the seats.

WestJet increased capacity by 4.1% year-over-year in 2012, boosting topline revenues by about 11.6% last year. The airline expects system capacity to grow by 5% to 6% in the first quarter and sees domestic capacity contracting 2% to 3% in the first three months of 2013. Overall domestic capacity is expected to increase between 5% and 6% for the full fiscal year.