WATCH: WestJet comes to the East Kootenay

WATCH: WestJet comes to the East Kootenay

  • Nov. 24, 2017 1:54 p.m.

A big announcement took place this morning, Friday November 24: WestJet will begin a new regional air service out of the Canadian Rockies International Airport, under an agreement with Pacific Coastal Airlines.

“There’s always a lot of pros and cons to anything and in this case it’s the biggest win-win that I think I could have imagined,” said Airport Manager Tristen Chernove.

Chernove has been working on building a relationship with WestJet for ten years and he said at the press conference one of the biggest constraints they’ve always had was WestJet only had 737s in their fleet, which as he explained, is far too big an aircraft for our region.

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“And as much as passengers we love riding in big planes,” said Chernove, “working in the industry what we noticed what works on routes is frequency, because you’ve got to have good timing with all the intentional and national connections so it’s like, ‘well that’s a great plane, but once a day, is that a frequency that’s going to really work?’”

He said what’s happened is a partnership between Pacific Coastal Airlines and WestJet, similar to the relationship between Air Canada and Jazz.

“So it’s called a capacity purchase. So in essence two of our airlines are sort of catapulted to another level and what WestJet will now have within it’s regional network is Saab 34 seat aircraft painted in full WestJet livery. For all intents and purposes exactly a WestJet plane but being operated for them by Pacific Coastal Airlines.”

The planes will have 34 seats with lots of cargo room and will provide three flights per day, hitting all the peak activity times in Calgary for domestic and international travel.

And the introductory one-way fares to and from Calgary are pretty eye-catching. You can travel from Cranbrook to Calgary for $98.83 — after fees. There are also promotional fares avaialble for today only with flights to and from Toronto. The price from Cranbrook to Toronto is $149.23, but you must book by 11:59 p.m. November 24. There are 500 seats available.

“They’re really working hard to stimulate an early pickup because that’s when they’re at the highest risk of a lot of loss and we need to help with that. I’ve made a personal commitment to WestJet to see that we have pre-sales before they launch, sort of upwards towards $50,000 which I don’t think is a lot of pre-booking if you look at the size of our community.”

Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt and Kimberley’s Mayor Don McCormick both spoke to the crowd, and expressed how much this development means to their communities.

“Whenever I mention the airport the first thing I heard was ‘when’s WestJet coming?’” said Pratt. “So it’s happening now which is great. In the international connections, basically it opens us to travel the world and it also opens the world to travel in here easier now. So it’s a big step for the airport.”

“Right now in our region we have a population that’s growing,” McCormick said. “We are expanding our business opportunities through the Cranbrook-Kimberley Development Initiative, we’ve got new residents moving here, primarily from Alberta. So this Calgary, Cranbrook, Kimberley corridor is really, really important to us and I see this announcement with WestJet as an opportunity for us to take it to the next level.”

Both mayors stressed the importance of supporting this initiative now that the milestone has been achieved.

“We’ve got to make sure it gets supported otherwise it’s going to disappear again and we can’t have that,” said Pratt, with McCormick adding:

“In many respects this feels like the finish line, you’ve been working at it for ten years and we got there, when in reality it’s the start. This will be a game changer for us but only if we make it so.”

Words, photos and video by Paul Rodgers.

paul.rodgers@cranbrooktownsman.com