Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brandonites laud WestJet's touchdown

Daily service to Calgary begins Sept. 3, carrier says

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WestJet Encore Ferio Pugliese, flanked by WestJet employees, makes the announcement at Brandon's airport.

BRUCE BUMSTEAD / BRANDON SUN Enlarge Image

WestJet Encore Ferio Pugliese, flanked by WestJet employees, makes the announcement at Brandon's airport.

BRANDON -- It's the news countless travellers in the Brandon region have been waiting to hear -- WestJet is coming to the Wheat City.

WestJet Encore president Ferio Pugliese was at the Brandon airport on Monday to announce daily, non-stop air service between Brandon and Calgary will begin Sept. 3.

"Why Brandon? Well it just made absolute sense for us," Pugliese said following a press conference at the Brandon airport. "It has a lot of both business and leisure travellers that fit into our market, and gives us the opportunity to connect people into our network."

Once the announcement was made, resounding applause broke out from the crowd of roughly 200 people in attendance.

"What a grand, grand day it is today," said Mayor Shari Decter Hirst. "I have always believed that we could get WestJet to land in Brandon."

Flights, using smaller 78-seat turboprops, will leave Calgary every day at 9:50 a.m. 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.

Currently, bookings on the WestJet website run about $300 for the round trip, with taxes included.

Pugliese said the company expects those planes to be full.

Brandon had been trying to persuade WestJet to bring regular air service to the city ever since the airline announced the new regional service last year.

Brandon presented a business case to WestJet last June. The creative pitch included identification tags with phrases linked to Brandon, postcards with Brandon landscape and streetscape scenes, fake boarding passes to Brandon in a WestJet envelope and a mockup of a WestJet airline magazine.

As part of Brandon's major push to woo WestJet, a petition was also launched, which garnered more than 10,000 signatures.

Sandy Trudel, the city's economic development director, said her team is ecstatic.

"We knew we had a solid business case, we knew the opportunity was there, and to have WestJet recognize that and choose Brandon in the first tier, that is just so rewarding," she said, adding regular air service will give Brandon direct connectivity to the global market.

It is also opening the door to other potential events, conferences and conventions.

"Those events that needed air service, we now can service," Trudel said.

Mayor Decter Hirst said in addition to the business opportunities, regular air service will also provide "wonderful quality-of-life opportunities."

"We've got students that are maybe attending university elsewhere in Canada that would be able to come home at spring break because it's such a convenient trip, we've got grandparents that are going to be able to go and visit their grandkids," she said.

WestJet had previously announced Encore would fly into Fort St. John and Nanaimo. Brandon was the third community named as a new destination for the Encore service.

-- Brandon Sun

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2013 A10

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