WestJet took to the sky nearly three decades ago in 1996. While Calgary has always been its most-served airport by flights, it has inevitably spread country-wide to penetrate the wider nation. However, then as now, Canada remains considerable geographically but not population-wise, a tough nut to crack.
It attempted to be everything to everyone, initially using its own metal and then deploying other units – regional WestJet Encore and ULCC Swoop – with more appropriate cost structures and products for the targeted markets. The desired acquisition of vacation carrier Sunwing further shows this segmentation by unit.
Best of the West?
By now, it should be of little surprise to readers that WestJet itself is to double down on Calgary in partnership with Alberta’s government. It comes as Canada’s ULCCs proliferate and WestJet’s yields suffer.
Speaking at Routes World in Las Vegas, Frank Satusky, WestJet’s Director of Commercial Strategy, said:
“We were building up hub operations [including with 787s] in multiple cities in Canada as the pandemic came. Coronavirus hit us pretty hard in that we weren’t at our maturity level with that strategy.
“We really had to take a step back and ask, where are we today, and where do we want to get to? What can we double down on, and what do we need to pull back on? [i.e., unprofitable flying that also doesn’t contribute enough network-wise].
“At the same time, we had a new CEO join us [Alexis von Hoensbroech in December 2021]. We started off down a new path… to really own Canada’s West [Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, while Air Canada mainly focuses on Toronto and Montréal]. That’s the path we’re going down, and taking other aspects of our business model like our 787s.”
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As Satusky commented:
We can’t be everything to everyone. We must focus. Where we can do things and succeed, we will. Calgary is exactly that. It is our strongest market. It is a challenge to refocus and there’s a way to go.
We’ll develop a really strong hub in Calgary, which will also help us to compete against the ULCCs by having a better value proposition by offering a broader range of destinations. It’ll give us more competitive strength.
We’ll grow our network into the US and potentially also Asia [from Calgary] at some point. But, we’re keen to protect existing slots at other Canadian airports, especially at Toronto Pearson [it’s unclear where exactly it’ll fly from there in the future].”
All 787s to be in Calgary
WestJet has seven 320-seat 787-9s, all delivered between January 2019 and September 2022. In 2019, when it had three 787s, it flew the widebodies from Calgary and Toronto, with Vancouver flying starting in 2020. They’re still used from these three cities.
Needless to say, it followed the approach of its 767-300ERs, which were used between 2015-2020. In that time, they were deployed on routes from Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton – and Winnipeg.
Things will look different, Satusky says. Yes, it has paused its widebody fleet at seven, but all “intercontinental” 787 flights will be from Calgary. This suggests that Toronto and Vancouver to London will end, freeing up equipment to fly from Calgary.
What do you make of WestJet’s attempt to refocus? Let us know in the comments.