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Welcome to Brandon, WestJet

Long-awaited jet service arrives to jubilant reaction

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The first WestJet Encore flight makes a pass over the Brandon Municipal Airport on Tuesday morning.

BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN Enlarge Image

The first WestJet Encore flight makes a pass over the Brandon Municipal Airport on Tuesday morning.

BRANDON -- As WestJet Encore touched down for the first time on the McGill Field runway, a loud cheer erupted from the crowd gathered to witness the event.

It's estimated more than 1,000 people came out to welcome WestJet to the community on Tuesday at the Brandon Municipal Airport.

"It's just the absolute, unbelievable convenience," said Diane Peters, who was checking in on the first flight from Brandon to Calgary.

"It won't be that drive from Winnipeg ... 20 minutes and we're at the airport," she said. "Just so quick and easy, it's going to be a lot of fun."

Diane's husband, Gord Peters, president of Cando Contracting, said they have "waited for this day for many, many years."

"It's huge for Cando," he said. "We keep air service, we keep our head office in Brandon. Without air service, Cando won't survive in Brandon. We have 300 employees across Cando, across the country, it's a huge day for us."

People from Brandon and the wider Westman region came out to celebrate. A family-oriented event was held that included entertainment and refreshments.

Jen Jackson said she wanted to come to the event to show her support for WestJet, a service she is looking forward to using.

"It'll be more convenient with kids, less cost for hotels and travelling," she said. "I have family in Calgary, so I'll use it for sure."

Cathy Wark of Minnedosa came to greet her brother arriving on the first flight.

"For going to Calgary to visit, it'll be a lot handier," she said. "And it would be really nice to see them also do the jump to Winnipeg-Toronto."

Mayor Shari Decter Hirst cheered and waved as she stepped off the first WestJet Encore plane in Brandon, along with several city officials.

"This is such a phenomenal thing for our city and our region," she said. "Ferio, I want to thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to be part of a world where there is no such thing any longer as a distant destination."

WestJet Encore president Ferio Pugliese was also on the first flight from Calgary to Brandon.

"It's always a pleasure to come out and serve a new community where people really, really are welcoming and in need of air travel," he said.

Daily flights, using smaller 78-seat turboprops, will leave Calgary at 9:50 a.m. MT for the two-hour flight to Brandon, which will arrive at 12:50 p.m. The return flight from Brandon to Calgary will take off at 1:20 p.m. and arrive in Calgary at 2:35 p.m. MT.

When asked if and when WestJet might add another route from Brandon, possibly east to Toronto, Pugliese said it's all about supply and demand.

"We're happy to supply air service where the demand supports it," he said. "We know that right now there's certainly a secure enough level of demand here in Brandon to support connectivity into Calgary, but thinking about connections east, that's not beyond the realm of possibilities at all."

Pugliese said as WestJet Encore continues to build its fleet, they will start to reassess different markets to see what the potential is.

Decter Hirst hopes to see other opportunities for flights heading east out of Brandon.

"We don't want to rest on our laurels, we want to make sure that this continues to grow because this air service just means prosperity and vitality for our region," Decter Hirst said.

Brandon West PC MLA Reg Helwer said it was "tremendously exciting" to be on the first flight into Brandon. He was in Calgary helping his two children settle in at university.

"This opens up a lot of doors for people in Brandon... and outside to come and do business here and connect to the world," Helwer said.

Brandon Chamber of Commerce president Craig Senchuk was also part of the city's contingent on the first flight.

He said they were surprised to see how many people came out to celebrate.

"I think it finally hit home that this is here and here to stay as long as we support it and keep buying flights," Senchuk said. "They're going to service us and service us well, so it's pretty exciting."

jaustin@brandonsun.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 4, 2013 B6

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Updated on Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 6:45 AM CDT: replaces photo

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