Could WestJet’s recent announcement of direct, non-stop flights to London from six Canadian cities be the prelude to an era of international growth for the airline?
Earlier this week, WestJet announced that it would start a new six times weekly service from Vancouver International Airport to London’s Gatwick Airport in early-May 2016. As well, daily services are planned for Toronto and St. John’s, Newfoundland while a five times weekly service is set for Calgary. The remaining smaller markets, Edmonton and Winnipeg, will have one or two weekly flights.
Air Canada intends to contend WestJet’s expansion with its own direct Air Canada Rouge services to Gatwick next year.
The new WestJet services are made possible by the airline’s recent acquisition of four retired Boeing 767-300ER jets from Qantas Airlines. These wide-body planes have a range of 9,500 kilometres or 11 hours and hold a capacity of 262 passengers.
The first of four new aircraft arrived last month and the remaining three aircraft will arrive separately over the next seven months. Improvements will also be made to the aircrafts, including upgrades to the avionics suite, engines, and the addition of winglets to the tips of the wings.
Up until now, WestJet has been physically restrained from competing directly with Air Canada in more markets – by offering more low-cost international destinations – because its fleet of 115 medium-range, narrow-body Boeing 737 aircraft has a short range. It can fly approximately 5,700 kilometres or seven hours with a capacity of no more than 174 passengers.
WestJet spokesperson Robert Palmer told Vancity Buzz that while its new Boeing 767s possess the range to reach a number of overseas regions, the company has no immediate plans to do so – other than its new London services.
“We have used Asia-Pacific and South America as examples of the types of destinations that our 767s could reach from Canada,” said Palmer.
“If you draw circles around Canadian cities to represent how far we could fly using the 767s, you can see how many geographic regions of the world are within range.”
In 2013, the airline ordered a total of 65 new longer range aircraft, including 25 Boeing 737 MAX 7 planes with a range of 7,000 kilometres and 40 Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes with a range of 6,700 kilometres. Deliveries from Boeing will begin in 2017, with the final planes arriving in 2027.