WestJet’s new boss says he can see “no limit” to the international opportunities for the Calgary-based airline, eyeing potential growth in Asia, Europe and Latin America.
CEO Ed Sims says that with advances in fuel efficiency and airplane technology, there’s opportunity not only to take more Canadians abroad, but to attract more travellers to Canada.
“We only have a population of 35 million here, but we have the opportunity to fly to populations of three billion,” Sims told CBC News.
“There is absolutely unlimited opportunity … to tap in to vast markets in Asia, still huge markets in Europe, an enormous market in Latin America, with unlimited opportunity to boost tourism to this country.”
WestJet first made a name for itself as a low-cost domestic airline. Over the years, it has expanded to destinations in Mexico, the Caribbean and, most recently, Europe.
But last year, the company placed a firm order for 10 Boeing Dreamliners, which will have the range and fuel efficiency to reach more distant markets.
The airline also has an option to buy an additional 10 Dreamliners to be delivered between 2020 and 2024.
With a range of up to 14,000 kilometres, the jets are said to be as much as 20 per cent more fuel efficient than WestJet’s current fleet of 767s.
Sims said the most significant element of the company’s growth plans focuses on Canadian travellers, but he said that they would also look to bring international guests to Canada.
“Whether that’s from Guangzhou, whether that’s from Rio de Janeiro, whether that’s from London, we can effectively build a Canadian experience in conjunction with partners, like Destination Canada, from the moment somebody walks on board our aircraft,” he said.
“That’s a phenomenal opportunity.”
The company is going to have to come to the table and try a little bit harder…– Rob McFadyen, Air Line Pilots Association
Airline analyst Fred Lazar said there are a lot of opportunities for inbound tourism from Asia, but added that the market is crowded and difficult to crack.
“They’re going to prefer their own airline — that’s common around the world,” said Lazar, a professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto.
“Unless he partners with more Asian carriers he’s not going to make any major inroads into attracting travelers in that part of the world.”
Instead, Lazar expects WestJet to use its Dreamliners primarily on European runs and maybe some South American flights.
Domestically, Sims said the launch of WestJet’s new ultra-low-cost carrier, Swoop, remains on schedule for June 20.
Sims also sounded positive in discussing the state of talks between the airline and its pilots, who are seeking their first unionized contract with the company.
“I am confident that at around the time that we come to launch our ultra-low-cost carrier, Swoop, that we will have terms of agreement,” Sims said.
“There’s certainly more that unites us than divides us. When rational people continue to sit round a table, you generally find a rational outcome.”
Rob McFadyen, chairman of WestJet’s Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) master executive council, said negotiations are going better than in the past.
Earlier this year, when Gregg Saretsky was WestJet’s CEO, the union said talks between the two sides were going “poorly.” Saretsky retired in March and was replaced by Sims.
McFadyen said he’s looking to make significant progress, but added that they’ve had two negotiating sessions now where they haven’t passed any tentative agreements on any section of the contract.
“The company is going to have to come to the table and try a little bit harder so we can get this done,” he said.
The two sides will sit down again this week for three days of conciliation talks beginning Monday.
AltaCorp Capital analyst Chris Murray said the talks are important because it will set benchmarks for a number of WestJet’s new initiatives, including its wide-bodied aircraft and Swoop.
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Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area. It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary, generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road). Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.
Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016, Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.
Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton. The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.