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WestJet purchase of carrier good news for city: expert

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WestJet’s pending purchase of Sunwing could lead to more destination options from Winnipeg’s airport, according to an aviation expert.

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This article was published 04/03/2022 (207 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WestJet’s pending purchase of Sunwing could lead to more destination options from Winnipeg’s airport, according to an aviation expert.

“For Winnipeg, it’s a good thing,” said John Gradek, who’s a lecturer in aviation management at McGill University. “I think what Winnipeg will probably see is a heck of a whole lot more destinations being offered.”

WestJet announced its deal to buy Sunwing Airlines and Sunwing Vacations on Wednesday. Sunwing CEO Stephen Hunter will head a new tour operating business — which will include Sunwing Vacations and WestJet Vacations — under the WestJet Group.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Nick Hays, the new president and CEO of Winnipeg Airports Authority.

The Calgary-based company will likely cut flights going to the same destinations at similar times, should they run on both WestJet’s and Sunwing’s schedules, Gradek said.

But, more direct sun destinations might become available, he said.

Sunwing offers flights to warm weather locations like Mexico, the Caribbean and the United States.

“(Ticket) price will probably not be changing that much,” Gradek said.

Other airlines offering similar deals will keep prices competitive, he predicted. But, the surging cost of fuel will likely add to checkout totals, he said.

“Why is WestJet interested in Sunwing? One, probably because the price is right, (and) two, because, I think, WestJet needs to be a major Canadian presence,” Gradek said.

WestJet is a big player in the west of Canada but lacks heft in the east, he said. Sunwing already had roots in the region.

“Rather than build their whole presence and invest a lot of money into building it… this was a fast-tracked way for WestJet to get into the eastern Canadian holiday market,” Gradek said.

It’s too soon to tell how the acquisition will affect Winnipeg, according to Nick Hays, Winnipeg Airports Authority’s CEO.

However, these are “exciting times” for the industry, he said.

“Our initial thoughts on it are (that) it’s very positive,” Hays said. “We’re looking to rebuild and restore that connectivity in and out of Winnipeg, so I think this is exciting news, to see this kind of development.”

WestJet is traditionally the largest carrier out of Winnipeg, he said. The deal comes as travel restrictions ease.

WestJet will add capacity to Sunwing Airlines by turning seasonally operated planes into year-round jets. Currently, Sunwing meets seasonal demand by leasing the bulk of its fleet through the winter.

Both WestJet’s and Sunwing’s CEOs said no layoffs would result from the takeover.

WestJet employs 8,490 workers — down from roughly 14,000 in 2019 — and 180 planes. Sunwing has fewer than 2,500 on staff and operates 40 aircraft in the winter and 10 in the summer. It owns 18 of those planes, which are included in the WestJet purchase.

“We feel strong enough, even more so together, to recover well out of this pandemic and to be more competitive, specifically in the low-cost market,” said Alexis von Hoensbroech, WestJet’s CEO.

The agreement is expected to close late this year. Transport Canada and the competition commissioner must both review the would-be takeover and report their findings to the transport minister, who has final say.

Sunwing’s current shareholders will become WestJet Group equity holders, according to a WestJet news release.

— with files from The Canadian Press

gabrielle.piche@freepress.mb.ca

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