Canadian carrier WestJet Airlines has announced that it is moving forward with plans that would see the airline fly its own widebody aircraft as early as autumn next year. The airline has received the support of the WestJet Pilot Association and its Board of Directors, and is currently in the advanced stages of sourcing widebody aircraft, it confirmed.
"This is the natural, next-step evolution for WestJet," said Gregg Saretsky, president and chief executive officer, WestJet. "It's made possible by our low-cost business model, growing network strength, airline partnerships and our award-winning brand driven by the efforts of our more than 10,000 WestJetters from coast to coast."
Initially, WestJet expects to operate four widebody aircraft with the first deployments on routes between Alberta and Hawaii during the winter season beginning in late 2015. The airline's current winter service between Alberta and Hawaii, via two Boeing 757-200s operated by Thomas Cook, is ending in the spring of 2015. Further announcements regarding WestJet's wide-body schedule for the 2016 summer season will be released at a later date, as the airline looks to expand its operation into overseas markets.
This is likely to see the carrier introduce further long-haul flights to Europe following the success of its recently launched service between St John’s in Newfoundland and Dublin, viewed by many as a trial to see the viability of transatlantic operations. It appears the trial is already proving successful with strong advanced bookings recently prompting a three-week extension of the service from October 5, 2014 until October 25, 2014.
The HUB revealed earlier this year that the carrier was closing in a deal to introduce its own widebody equipment. Speaking at Routes Europe in Marseille, France in April this year, John Weatherill, network and schedule planning, WestJet Airlines said: “We have looked at introducing widebody aircraft into the fleet many times over the years, but we are probably the closest we have ever been to making a decision.”
The anticipated expansion of the WestJet operation into new markets comes at a time that domestic competition within Canada is set to intensify with the arrival of an ultra low-cost start-up that intends to break the duopoly of Air Canada and WestJet in domestic skies. The business, Canada Jetlines, has announced plans to raise $10m and has signed a letter of intent with capital pool company, Inovent, which will help the airline enter the stock market and raise the capital it needs to start flying.
Through its low-fare offering the business believes it can steal a significant portion of the market from its established rivals by undercutting them both and stimulating demand still further in the process. It plans to launch later this year and claims its network will include a number of unserved and underserved local markets including Regina, Prince Town and Kamloops.