It’s been five weeks since WestJet began flying its smaller carrier, Encore, out of Nanaimo Airport, and the airline couldn’t be happier with the response.
“The route is doing extremely well,” said WestJet spokesman Robert Palmer.
He declined to give exact passenger numbers, citing corporate confidentiality, but said on average the daily flight from Nanaimo to Calgary was nearly always full. The forward bookings into August are also strong, he added.
Palmer said it tells the company that its confidence in the route was well placed and that the information supplied by Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation about the interest in the route was sound.
“Everything they felt would happen has happened,” Palmer said.
From Calgary, the most popular connecting destinations are Edmonton, Regina and Fort McMurray – all gateways to the oil fields, where a significant portion of Nanaimo’s workforce earns its paycheque.
Palmer said it’s too early to say whether WestJet would increase the daily flight, but the data of where passengers are headed could give the company an indication of where to increase direct flights – a flight from Nanaimo directly to Fort McMurray might be profitable.
“It’s still pretty early days,” Palmer said.
WestJet created its Encore carrier to service smaller markets, beginning with Nanaimo and Fort St. John June 24, with service to Brandon and Terrace to start later this year.
The company currently has two of the smaller planes on the Nanaimo and Fort St. John routes, with a firm order for 20 more by the end of 2014.
Once the planes are in service, it will be easier to add flights to specific destinations.
The best way for people to ensure the air carrier stays or expands is to use the service, Palmer said.
“The more you use the more you receive,” he said.
WestJet traffic helped boost flyer numbers for Nanaimo Airport overall in June, which also saw an increase over the previous year in May.
Nanaimo Airport president Mike Hooper said passenger traffic increased 14 per cent in May 2013 over the previous year, and 18 per cent in June compared to the previous year.
The airport is also served by Air Canada, offering flights to Vancouver.
“We’re going to have new record numbers in 2013,” Hooper said. “The numbers have been very strong.”
He said the airport is well situated to handle the number of passengers flying through right now, but added they might take a look at available parking on site.
As for WestJet, Palmer said the company is committed to Nanaimo Airport.
“We don’t believe this is a blip – we believe the demand is there,” he said.
For more information, please visit www.nanaimoairport.com.
For more information on WestJet and Encore, please visit www.westjet.com.