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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

WestJet adds routes

Non-stop flights to Regina, Saskatoon restored

Posted: 07/24/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 07/24/2013 6:53 AM | Updates

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WestJet Encore's Q400 has 78 seats, making it a better fit for the regional routes than previously employed, higher-capacity jets.

SUPPLIED PHOTO Enlarge Image

WestJet Encore's Q400 has 78 seats, making it a better fit for the regional routes than previously employed, higher-capacity jets.

Westjet is reviving non-stop daily service between Winnipeg and Saskatchewan's two largest cities beginning early next year.

A spokeswoman for the Calgary-based airline said Tuesday its new regional air service -- WestJet Encore -- will offer twice-daily non-stop flights between Winnipeg and Regina beginning on Jan. 15, and between Winnipeg and Saskatoon starting on Feb. 15.

Brie Ogle said WestJet halted direct flights between Winnipeg and the two Saskatchewan cities in May 2009.

That left Air Canada as the only carrier offering direct service. Winnipeggers wanting to fly WestJet had to fly to Calgary first, then catch a plane to Regina or Saskatoon.

Ogle said WestJet didn't halt direct service because it wasn't popular.

'The more carriers there are and the more choices there are, the more opportunities there are to do business'

-- WAA president Barry Rempel

"It is and always has been. It's just the aircraft we were using didn't match the (passenger) volumes we were seeing."

She said back then, WestJet was using 116- to 166-seat planes, while its new regional service will use 78-seat jets. That will better match the number of passengers expected on the flights, she added.

The new flights to and from Saskatchewan are among a number of additions to WestJet's 2013-14 winter schedule. The airline said it is adding four new non-stop routes -- the other two are between Vancouver and Kamloops, B.C., and Calgary and Miami -- and two new year-round routes. It's also adding more flights on 29 existing routes within its network.

Ogle said Winnipeg Airports Authority Inc. and WestJet's own customers lobbied to have the two routes included as part of the new regional service. And the airline is thrilled to be able to do that.

In May, WestJet announced it was also adding daily non-stop service between Brandon and Calgary, beginning Sept. 3.

WAA president and CEO Barry Rempel said the new flights will be welcome additions.

Not only will they provide more options for local flyers, they should also help drive down airfares on the routes.

He said WestJet's round-trip airfare between Winnipeg and the two Saskatchewan cities is expected to be about $400, which is about $100 cheaper than what Air Canada charges. He said he expects Air Canada to reduce its fares to match WestJet's fares once the new service starts.

Rempel said the lower airfares and expanded service could also lead to more business dealings between companies here and in Saskatchewan, which would be good for the local economy.

"The more carriers there are and the more choices there are, the more opportunities there are to do business," he added.

The addition of the two new routes should also help boost passenger volumes at Winnipeg's James Richardson International Airport. Second-quarter results released Tuesday by the WAA show passenger traffic at the airport was down two per cent in the quarter that ended June 30.

Rempel blamed the decline on national carriers reducing the number of flights on some routes, or switching to smaller planes in a bid to boost passenger loads.

"Winnipeg has not been immune to those changes in capacity..." he added.

But he noted Q2's drop in passenger volumes was smaller than Q1's three per cent decline, so things are trending in the right direction.

"And with Encore being announced (for next year), I'm sure we'll start to see some of that come back."

Despite the year-over-year decline in passenger volumes, the WAA still reported an increase in second-quarter revenues -- $23.1 million versus $20.9 million -- and in earnings before interest and taxes -- $4.2 million versus $3.1 million.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 24, 2013 B6

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Updated on Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 6:53 AM CDT: replaces photo

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