Penticton doesn't land WestJet Encore
Penticton has been left off the first round of destinations announced by WestJet on Monday for its new regional carrier Encore.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t make the first round but I know their new airplane deliveries are being staggered. It appears WestJet has decided to open up Encore’s new routes to the west first before the east. That provides a good opportunity in the near future for Penticton as new airplanes arrive into their system,” said Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton. “I think we can provide them with an exceptional opportunity. There are 90,000-plus people in the South Okanagan Similkameen.”
On Sunday, WestJet.com was allowing people to book flights from Fort St. John to Calgary or Vancouver and a Nanaimo to Calgary route via the Encore service. The company confirmed the two destinations on Monday and on their website allowed booking for five other communities commencing late-summer including Grande Prairie, Regina, Saskatoon, a Calgary to Edmonton service and a Vancouver to Victoria service.
"We are just getting started," said Ferio Pugliese, executive vice-president of WestJet and president of WestJet Encore, in a press release issued Monday. "The communities that are not part of today's announcement continue to be under consideration as we take delivery of additional aircraft later this year and in the years to come."
WestJet spokesperson Robert Palmer said there were many factors when selecting the communities for Encore including the population of the city and outlying trading area, the health and nature of the economy, the airport infrastructure, any prior history of air carriers in the market and the breakdown of business and leisure travellers within the community. Penticton was vying to land the regional carrier and the city and residents launched a number of initiatives to catch WestJet's attention including a viral video and a social media campaign. In June representatives from the City of Penticton went to Calgary to make their pitch to WestJet executives armed with an airport survey/study in their presentation. A total of 33 communities including Cranbrook, Brandon, Man. and Medicine Hat, Alta, also gave similar in-person pitches at WestJet's Calgary headquarters.
"We certainly are evaluating Penticton along with the other 30-something communities that presented pitches back in June at the Calgary campus. Penticton did a great job obviously with its flash mob, which was very impressive. Clearly, we are just getting started with WestJet Encore and it is important that people understand that these two first destinations are just that, the first two," said Palmer. "They are not by any stretch of the imagination the only destinations we are going to fly to."
Encore will use WestJet's newly added Bombardier Q400 NextGen turboprop aircraft that seats 78 people with two seats on either side of the aisle. WestJet ordered 20 of the planes with options for 25 more and have plans for all of those to be operational by 2018. The first two will be delivered in June for the Fort St. John and Nanaimo destinations. Palmer said there will be more announcements in the coming days on Alberta and Saskatchewan destinations WestJet already serves that will also be using the Q400 aircraft. He added another new destination WestJet doesn't currently fly to will most likely be announced some time this year.
"We expect to make probably one more announcement before the end of 2013. We have not established how many communities will be incorporated into that announcement yet, nor have we set a date for that announcement," said Palmer.
While disappointed, the Penticton mayor said the city has been working closely with a representative of the federal government and met with them as recently as last week to discuss the future of the airport.
"The opportunities are there. There are good things happening at the Penticton airport," said Ashton, adding he cannot say more than that because the meetings were private.
Ashton said he also hasn't given up hope that Air Canada might expand their services. In December Air Canada announced they would be adding a fourth daily non-stop flight from Penticton to Vancouver starting on May 1. A delegation from the city also met with Air Canada officials last year to discuss potential air service opportunities in Penticton.
Ashton said he is happy with Air Canada’s service in the city and is “positive” there is enough of a demand to provide a Penticton to Calgary service as currently more than 50 per cent of the local market uses Kelowna International Airport to fly to Vancouver and Calgary. According to a study by the city and stakeholders, Penticton airport served approximately 80,000 passengers in 2011. Market analysis identified the total air travel market is more than 210,000 annual passengers — sufficient to support an additional daily flight to Vancouver and two daily flights to Calgary.
“Personal and business travellers have expressed loud and clear the desire for a Calgary connection, and the business case supports that link. We are confident that WestJet has Penticton on its radar when they expand their regional carrier in the years to come,” said Ashton.