Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

Canadian low-fare carrier WestJet Airlines is to acquire and lease up to 70 Boeing Next Generation (NG) 737s to re-equip and expand its fleet. The selection of the 737 follows an evaluation which included the Airbus A318/A319.

The Calgary, Alberta-based airline has placed a firm order for 20 737-600s or -700s, worth C$900 million ($621 million), with an option to acquire up to 30 more before 2008. At the same time, WestJet has agreed to lease 10 737-600/700s from GE Capital Aviation Services, with an option to lease a further 10.

Delivery of the first 10 aircraft, all leased, will begin in the second quarter of next year. The first four aircraft will be used to expand WestJet's fleet and will be delivered by the end of 2001. The remaining six leased aircraft will replace some of the airline's 737-200s, and are to be in service by the end of 2002. WestJet operates 15 737-200s, which it plans to phase out over the next five years.

WestJet began operations in February 1996, serving western Canada. Following Air Canada's take-over of Canadian Airlines International, WestJet announced plans to expand into eastern Canada. Beginning on 8March, the airline will add services to Hamilton, Ontario. WestJet will add three more cities this year, creating an eastern network with Hamilton as the hub.

Next year, as it expands its fleet, WestJet will increase connections between the eastern and western branches of its network. An initial public offering was completed last July to raise funds for the purchase of additional aircraft.

WestJet has just reported record results for 1999, including a 142% increase in net earnings on revenues that were up by 62% to C$204 million. Capacity and traffic also increased substantially, and load factors improved during the 12 month period.

Source: Flight International