One of Canada’s largest airlines, WestJet, has recently announced fleet plans that reflect a new strategic focus on Western Canada.
The plans include a substantial order for more narrowbody aircraft, pausing the addition of more widebody aircraft, all to centre its regional fleet for the extension of its network in the West.
WestJet growing at home
This new strategic plan for the carrier’s post-pandemic growth was announced by CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech, who joined WestJet in February of this year from Austrian Airlines.
The new CEO gathered managers from across the airline on Wednesday, his 100th day on the job, to discuss how he envisions WestJet moving forward in the future.
In the meeting, von Hoensbroech outlined what he wants WestJet management to concentrate on in the short-medium term. The list was made up of objectives such as:
- Growth as a low-cost carrier that is friendly, reliable, and modern;
- Shifting resources to significantly grow its presence and network in the West, fostering its undisputed status as the home-team carrier of Western Canada, offering more direct, non-stop flights to communities;
- Investing further in leisure and sun flying as a priority across Canada, including through the acquisition of Sunwing, following regulatory approval;
- Investing in technology and radical digitalization to improve the guest experience and simplify internal processes to ensure meaningful and engaging jobs for its people; and
- Redoubling efforts to maintain its successful and highly productive low-cost structure and culture, to ensure relentless competitiveness and affordability for guests.
To match its commercial strategies, arguably the most interesting takeaways from the meeting were WestJet’s fleet plans, which included a new aircraft order.
The carrier will focus its existing widebody Boeing 787-9 fleet on Western Canada and, for now, pause further investment into incremental B787s to focus on further narrowbody growth, as confirmed by von Hoensbroech. The CEO added that the carrier was working towards a “substantial additional narrowbody order” but did not elaborate on what manufacturer they will be ordering from.
But the Calgary-based carrier is exclusively a Boeing operator – all 105 of its aircraft in-service are Boeing. So, one could argue that this is more or less an easy guess.
Over the next few years, more than 30 Boeing 737 Max 10, Max 8 and Max 7 aircraft are due to arrive at WestJet, half of which are due this year.
When it comes to moving out to Western Canada, von Hoensbroech says that the airline’s regional fleet of De Haviland Q400 aircraft will be modified to focus on Western Canada. This will, according to the CEO, remove complexities from operations and prioritise WestJet’s commitment to improving connectivity in Western Canada.
Plans for the here and now
Alexis von Hoensbroech said that the carrier’s immediate priority is to ensure we are ready for the “high volume of pent-up travel demand this summer.” He continued:
“Equally important is charting a path that continues to grow WestJet as the friendly, reliable, and affordable airline our guests know and love. WestJet is strong foundationally, having weathered the pandemic as perhaps the world’s only airline of scale that did not accept sector-specific government funding or issue any new equity or debt. We’re now at an exciting and pivotal moment for the industry and our airline.”
“As we emerge from the pandemic, the world around us is changing with rising inflation and instability from the war in Ukraine. We are also facing industry-specific challenges, including spiking oil prices and staffing shortages at airports.”
In order to handle the industry’s current limitations, WestJet’s CEO said that any network changes would be phased in gradually by summer 2023 following engagement with communities and stakeholders:
“While we will be investing the majority of our fleet in the West, as a national airline, we will maintain a significant presence in the Eastern provinces, primarily through direct connections to our Western cities, while significantly enhancing our network to leisure and sun destinations, including through our acquisition of Sunwing.”
But through it all, von Hoensbroech maintains that aircraft will be deployed where they will be of greatest service to Canadians.
WestJet has big plans for its future in Canada. What do you make of them?