MONCTON – Officials with WestJet say they would like to make Moncton part of a new regional air service, but it will be about a year before a decision is made.
"We've received a lot of requests from across the country for service but we have a long, long way to go before we get to the point where we can say where we're going to fly," WestJet spokesman Robert Palmer said Thursday.
WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky announced Wednesday that the Calgary-based airline expects to launch a regional Canadian airline next year. The company has been moving toward the idea for some time, but a major step forward came when employees voted 91 per cent to endorse the idea. The new short-haul regional network would be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Calgary-based airline founded in 1996.
Once the vote is ratified by the board of directors, the next step is to buy up to 40 turboprop aircraft. WestJet is looking at two aircraft to use on the new regional service: Bombardier's Q400 series, manufactured at Bombardier's Toronto Downsview plant, and the ATR 72-600, made by the French-Italian joint venture ATR, with headquarters in Toulouse, France.
Both planes have a seating capacity of about 70 to 75 and are designed for relatively short flights of one to two hours. The Q400 is the same type of plane used by Porter Airlines, which offers direct flights between Moncton and Toronto.
"The next step for us is to do an RFP (request for proposals) from both manufacturers and see what they come back with on price and availability. We'll be kicking the tires and looking under the hood of both aircraft to see which suits us best. We want to launch in 2013 with eight aircraft and eventually grow to a fleet of 40."
WestJet's new airline would act as a feeder service, connecting smaller communities with the larger hubs. WestJet currently offers service to 76 cities in 14 countries, mainly using 737 jets with a capacity of 200 people.
WestJet already has a presence at the Greater Moncton International Airport. The airline offers daily service to Toronto during the winter months and twice-daily during the summer. WestJet also offers once-a-week service to Mexico and Orlando, Florida.
Johanne Gallant, director of commercial development for the Greater Moncton International Airport, said the facility definitely wants to become part of the new WestJet network as it would open up new opportunities for local business.
"With smaller aircraft they can do more frequency and open up new routes that would connect with us. We would like to have a direct flight from St. John's and Boston," Gallant said.
"WestJet already has a presence in Moncton and it would be wonderful if we could expand on that," Palmer said. "Canadians are anxious to hear where the new service will go but it's still way too early in the process to say. We're basically starting a new airline."
He said WestJet recognizes that air travel business is important to the economies of places like Moncton. He said WestJet hopes to offer Canadian travellers more alternatives and "liberate Canadians from the high cost of travel."