It is certainly not all doom and gloom in the travel and tourism industry. Take WestJet, the Canadian low cost carrier as an example. This April it posted record load factors, achieving an average of 86.2 per cent and a revenue passenger miles growth of 8.2 per cent over last year, together with record first quarter profits. The airline handled over 120,000 more passengers in April 2012, hitting a total of 1.48 million for the month. During the same three months, Air Canada’s losses climbed to CAD$210 million.
WestJet founder, Englishman Clive Beddoe made no secret at the time when the airline was formed in 1996 that it was modelled on the highly successful US SouthWest Airlines, adopting the single aircraft type with different variations. However, the current President and chief executive, Gregg Saretsky, has moved away from this business plan to place a firm order for 20, and options on another 25 of the Bombardier made Q400 turbo-prop planes. In his words its to ‘connect the dots’.
WestJet also considered the European made ATR, but ultimately chose the NextGeneration Q400’s based on their ‘combination of seating, speed and range given the distance the planes will need to fly to reach some of the smaller communities to be served’. And its easy to see the attraction of this particular Dash 8 version. The fastest, 414 mph (360 knots), a range of 1,567 miles and a passenger capacity of up to 78 seats. Small wonder then its been the best seller, with 428 orders up until 1st May 2012. The regional services will be phased in, as the airline takes delivery over the next six years.
While the new destinations have yet to be disclosed, it could certainly help Barbados open up and expand our Canadian market share. During the time Sean Durfy was CEO, I wrote to him, asking if he would consider operating a direct Winnipeg/Barbados service. All three types of the B737 they operate can easily do it nonstop, a great circle distance of 3,304 miles or less than 7 hours flying time. He was gracious enough to respond, albeit not positively, but perhaps then the timing was not right.
Well, currently Calgary (3,997) and Edmonton (4,037 miles) are out of the operating range of the fleet they have. With a metropolitan population of about 770,000 people, Winnipeg is the next best option. If Brandon, as indicated, Manitoba’s second city is serviced by the new turboprops, this will add another 53,000 passenger potential. But its a lot more than about just the numbers. It is the demographics.
Long winters, a predominance of farming communities, unable to work the land for extended periods of the year. Add the neighbouring Province of Saskatchewan, and the wealth created from potash, the world’s second largest producer and it makes even more sense. I am sure that both Regina and Saskatoon will be included in the deployment of the additions to the fleet.
It also seems inconceivable that we could not fill at least one 119 seater plane, once a week from November to May. Hopefully over the next few months, our tourism policymakers will be carefully tracking any announced new routes and destinations with the connecting opportunities they may present from emerging markets.