WestJet flights take off from Cassidy airport

NANAIMO - Locals are on board with news of a new aircraft service that will provide a direct portal between Nanaimo and Calgary

Direct non-stop flight service between Nanaimo to Calgary is now prepared for takeoff.

WestJet has announced a new service operated by its Encore fleet of 78-passenger aircraft that will see daily flights leaving Nanaimo and Calgary effective June 24.

“We are so tickled, we’re just delighted with the outcome,” said Nanaimo Airport CEO Mike Hooper. “The full team on both sides – Nanaimo Airport Commission team and WestJet team – have worked for a number of months on [this] project.”

The service was announced Monday at YCD, where dozens of WestJet employees and management arrived via a Bombardier Q400 aircraft for a special ceremony and were welcomed by a large group which included airport staff and local politicians.

Nanaimo was one of two B.C. destinations chosen out of more than 30 by WestJet for the launch of its new regional service. Starting June 24, regional service will also extend to Fort St. John, from Vancouver and Calgary.

Encore’s Nanaimo/Calgary service will run once a day from each location, leaving Calgary at 11 a.m. (MST), arriving in Nanaimo at 11:43 a.m., and then departing Nanaimo at 12:30 p.m. (PST). Introductory one-way rates, including taxes, fees and charges, start at $127.81 from Nanaimo to Calgary, and $140.83 from Calgary to Nanaimo.

WestJet plans to begin regional service with its two Canadian-built Bombardier Q400 NextGen turboprop aircraft, then add five more by the end of year. A total of 20 Q400s have been confirmed with the option of an additional 25 over the next six years.

“The announcement of the first cities to be served by WestJet Encore is a historic moment for this new airline,” said Ferio Pugliese, vice-president of WestJet, in a news release. “We look forward to introducing our award-winning guest experience to Canadians in smaller communities while connecting to our network of 85 destinations.”

For Hooper, the announcement is the culmination of nearly a decade of hard work bringing in the infrastructure to land air carriers like Air Canada and WestJet.

“It’s the reason we did the extra work to put in the longer runway and the high-intensity lighting systems, the lead-in system, the instrument landing system and the enlarged terminal,” he said.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan called the announcement a ‘coming of age’ for the Harbour City.

“Non-stop flights from Calgary to Nanaimo is something we’ve wanted and worked on for years,” he said. “Finally we have an airport that can and will accept longer distance flights.”

In addition to providing better access to central Vancouver Island, the service will be invaluable to the increasing number of local residents currently working in Alberta, Ruttan said.

“From an economic standpoint, it’s going to prove to be very valuable indeed. It’s a link that is going to pay off huge dividends, much like the WestJet service to Comox really opened up the Comox Valley.”

Providing a direct link from Nanaimo to Calgary will not only bode well for the local business community, but provide opportunities for tourism and real estate as well, said Sasha Angus, CEO, Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation.

“The ability for folks in Calgary to look at Nanaimo as a place where they can come for the weekend or have a second home or recreational property becomes incredibly attractive,” he said. “We’re looking forward to June 24.”

The NEDC is close to launching its strategic plan on tourism at the end of the month. One of the things it identifies, Angus said, is a way to increase accessibility between Alberta and Nanaimo.

“Direct flights that way are real currency, where tourism is concerned,” he said. “We think it’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for our tourism operators.”

Ruttan added that with another major air carrier on board at its airport, Nanaimo could see some spin-off benefits in the foreseeable future.

“It may now be back on Air Canada to see what they want to do in the way of improved service or improved equipment to compete,” he said. “We’re optimistic that this will be a catalyst that will start some other activities at the airport and get better utilization for Nanaimo and area.”