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WestJet regional service could be ready for takeoff in 2013

WestJet employees have crossed the first item on a long to-do list by voting 91 per cent in favour of the launch of a regional airline.

“Really what we have done today is crossed off just the first item, a pretty important item obviously, but just the first one,” said Robert Palmer, WestJet spokesperson. “We have got a long, long way to go before we launch, hopefully next year.”

WestJet announced last month the proposal of a new short-haul, regional airline using a fleet of approximately 40 smaller, turboprop aircraft.

Residents of the South Okanagan are hoping the Penticton airport will be included in the new flights.

Penticton resident Rob Murphy started a Facebook group last week called Bring WestJet to Penticton that has surged to well over 1,100 people. He also encourages people to use #WestJetPenticton to join the conversation on Twitter.

This effort hasn’t gone unnoticed by WestJet.

“We have heard from dozens of communities in Canada, including Penticton, and obviously that is flattering for us because we think we have something to contribute to these communities. One of the objectives of this regional airline is to liberate smaller communities from the high airfares they have been paying for many years now,” said Palmer.

“We know people are very interested in WestJet service from coast to coast. Obviously Penticton is one of those and we are pleased to see the response from them. Again, it is important that people everywhere understand we are a long, long way from making any decision of where we might fly.”

The next step for WestJet to proceed with implementation of a low-cost regional airline is sending requests for proposals to two aircraft manufacturers: Bombardier for the Q400 NextGen and ATR for the ATR 72-600. Palmer said these planes are half the size of WestJet’s Boeing 737s and designed for short-haul flights of one to two hours.

According to WestJet, at maturity, the regional airline would be a national operation in both Eastern and Western Canada with domestic and trans-border operations.

How long it takes to have the aircraft manufactured and delivered plays an important role in how the rest of the business plan for the WestJet regional flights plays out.

“It is really dependent on how things go, and presuming all things go well, we still want to launch sometime in 2013,” said Palmer.

The WestJet spokesperson said both of the potential regional flight aircraft seat between 70 and 75 passengers. This could become an important issue should Penticton be chosen.

Penticton airport manager David Allen previously told the Western News that the runway can accommodate many different types of planes, but capacity in the waiting area inside the terminal building only holds 50 people. Any renovations would have to go through Transport Canada.

“Every time there is an issue to do something with the airport, the city looks to Transport Canada to pay it and Transport Canada says we don’t do that at the other 280 airports we own. The problem here is the city has no ownership in the airport,” said Allen.

 

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