WestJet has began to reveal the locations it will service through its new regional service Encore, but Cranbrook has not yet been named as a destination.
On Monday, February 11, WestJet announced that it will begin daily service to Fort St. John and Nanaimo on June 24, 2013.
While Cranbrook was not included in the first announcement, it still could be in coming months.
“We are just getting started,” said Ferio Pugliese, president of WestJet Encore.
“The communities that are not part of today’s announcement continue to be under consideration as we take delivery of additional aircraft later this year and in years to come.”
Last June, Tristen Chernove, managing director of Canadian Rockies International Airport, travelled to Calgary to pitch Cranbrook as a destination for WestJet Encore. He was among representatives from more than 30 Canadian cities conveying their interest.
“This is really good news for western Canada,” said Chernove of Monday’s announcement. “They are starting their expansion in the west, which means for the next nine to 12 months there will be continued growth of the WestJet Encore network through western Canada.
“Of course it would be better news to be in the first two destinations announced, but this is a marathon for WestJet and they have been very clear that this is the way they have to approach it. All communities can’t be served at the same time and it’s going to be an exciting year.”
Chernove said he continues to communicate with WestJet on behalf of Cranbrook.
“I am very optimistic still. We are in a great position and we have WestJet’s interest. We are on a great trajectory with WestJet and we are going to continue down our path of keeping our communications going with them.”
Fort St. John will be connected to Calgary and Vancouver daily with fares starting at $109 before taxes. The service between Nanaimo and Calgary will be daily with fares starting at $79 plus taxes.
Those rates are historic, especially for Fort St. John, said Chernove.
“I think WestJet has entered the market very competitively, and in fact those are prices the likes of which Fort St. John has never seen, so I think it is very monumental for that community.”
However, he added, the airlines that service Cranbrook’s airport are already offering rates that would compete with WestJet’s offer.
“Our fares are already there, if not better,” said Chernove. “Pacific Coastal and Air Canada have put us in a great position to show some positive growth,” said Chernove.
Pacific Coastal’s starting fare for service from Cranbrook to Vancouver is $74 each way plus taxes, while Air Canada’s fares start at $145 each way plus taxes.
What’s more, Chernove said, the more passengers use Canadian Rockies International Airport, the better the destination looks to WestJet.
“What they watch most closely of all is the business case and what’s happening with the passenger trend,” said Chernove.
“It’s important for people to know the fares are that low, and by utilizing it, it’s just going to make our numbers look more appealing to WestJet.”
WestJet Encore will take delivery of its first two Canadian-built, 78-seat Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft in June and add five more by the end of the year. WestJet has firm orders for a total of 20 Q400s and options for an additional 25 over the next six years.