WestJet has announced their plan to start a regional airline using Bombardier Q400s. This is by no means breaking news, but a story that somehow I missed and have been playing catch up and wanted to share some of the things that I have learned.
For those of you who might not be aware of WestJet, they are a low cost carrier, based at Calgary International Airport (YYC) in Alberta, Canada. Previously, they only operated a fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft in an all-economy layout.
In January of this year, WestJet stated that they were looking into starting up a smaller subset of their almost 100 fleet of 737s. At the time, WestJet President and CEO, Gregg Saretsky, stated, “A short-haul aircraft combined with WestJet’s brand, balance sheet strength and low-cost structure will allow WestJet to profitably accomplish four main goals: Introduce WestJet’s friendly and caring service to many smaller communities who have asked for our service; optimize the size of aircraft to efficiently increase frequency; create new connections between existing WestJet markets; and build additional feed to our current 71-city network so that we can continue to profitably grow and add shareholder value.”
The airline’s management talked with employees and in February, the airline announced that 91% of employees voted in favor to launch the regional airline. I would imagine that WestJet employees do not have a union is one reason the high number.
“We are very impressed with the Q400,” Saretsky stated in a press release. “Both ATR and Bombardier put forward excellent proposals and ultimately we believe the Bombardier Q400’s combination of range, speed and seat density is the best choice to meet the needs of the market and how we plan to operate the regional airline.”
WestJet signed a letter of intent to purchase 20 Q400s with the option to purchase an additional 25 aircraft. The airline hopes to start regional service in 2013.
I was curious how the new Q400s would operate in the WestJet fleet and would there be a different customer service product on the Q400?
“The two airlines will operate under separate certificates. However, they will both be WestJet in every respect — culture, guest experience and even livery,” Robert Palmer, spokesperson for WestJet explained to AirlineReporter.com.
The Q400s will be used on flights lasting about one to two hours and the 737s will fly on longer routes. Both airlines will cover domestic and trans-boarder flying and the Q400s will act as a feeder system for the mainline 737s. Palmer also stated that the Q400s might be placed on current routes that have less demand and free up a 737 for additional service.
On top of starting regional service, WestJet has also stated that they will start offering premium economy seating. Each aircraft will have four rows of seats with 36″ of seat pitch and the addition of priority boarding and complimentary on-board amenities.
With Southwest Airlines flying to larger airports and bringing on the 737-800, Allegiant going from one aircraft type to three and WestJet adding regional service and premium seating, it is anyone’s guess what these low cost carriers will do next.