Passengers flying in Western Canada will see some lower air fares as WestJet’s new Encore regional service takes flight in June, introducing daily flights for Victoria-Vancouver, Nanaimo-Calgary, and Fort St. John-Vancouver, analysts say.
There will be one flight each way, each day on the routes. The Victoria-Vancouver service continues on to Fort St. John and Calgary; the Nanaimo-Calgary service is non-stop.
WestJet will use its first two 78-seat Bombardier Q400 turboprops for the new services. Routes will be added as it takes delivery of five more Q400s by the end of the year.
The airline said its entry into a new market typically lowers fares by up to 50 per cent and the arrival of Encore is already causing Air Canada to trim fares on some routes.
WestJet Encore’s introductory fare on the Fort St. John routes to Vancouver and to Calgary are $109 plus taxes, or up to about $172. Air Canada is lowering its one-way fare including taxes by about 40 per cent to $225 from up to $372 before Encore arrives.
Introductory fare for the quick flight between Victoria and Vancouver will be $49 plus taxes (or up to about $87), while flights to Nanaimo will be $79 plus taxes (up to about $140).
Encore isn’t having much impact on fares between Victoria and Vancouver because of existing competition from small carriers and Air Canada’s Jazz, said industry analyst Robert Kokonis.
WestJet has firm orders for 20 Q400s and options for 25 more planes over the next six years. After increasing service in the West, WestJet plans to introduce Encore to Eastern Canada in nine to 12 months.
“It’s good news for consumers,” said Kokonis, president of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc.
“As they progressively increase the capacity as they get additional Q400s we’re going to see these kinds of pricing benefits extended to consumers from coast to coast.
“Certainly there’s going to be some very interesting pricing actions in the market in the next year and this is also a signal that WestJet’s not just looking at Air Canada but they’re looking at all competitors, including Porter,” Kokonis said.
WestJet Encore’s president called the upcoming launch a “historic moment.”
“We are just getting started,” said Ferio Pugliese.
The Calgary-based carrier is facing increased competition from Air Canada, which recently announced increased frequencies in Western Canada with its own fleet of Bombardier Q400s.
About 300 employees will be hired by year-end at WestJet to operate the first seven Bombardier aircraft. Up to 1,800 will be employed when the service is totally ramped up.
Employees will earn about 10 per cent less than colleagues at the mainline carrier, but in line with a low-cost regional service, spokesman Richard Bartrem said.
WestJet also announced Monday that it will deploy its fleet of Boeing 737 jets to two more U.S. destinations this spring and beef up its mainline service to destinations in Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico. Among the Canadian service enhancements is non-stop service between Toronto and Fort McMurray, Alta., a major centre for Alberta’s oilsands industry.
— With Times Colonist
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