Brandon travellers hoping for a WestJet Encore route from Brandon to Thunder Bay or Toronto will just have to keep their fingers crossed.
The airline announced that as of June 27, its first eastern service will be launched, but it will be Winnipeg-Thunder Bay-Toronto.
"We have to keep going forward with the aircraft that we have, and at this point we have 11 and still by mid-summer we’ll only have 13," said WestJet spokesperson Brie Ogle. "We’re building new routes, such as Winnipeg, Thunder Bay and Toronto, so we have to make sure that before we continue to take more, we’re using the aircraft that we have in the best possible way."
Ogle said because Winnipeg is also an Encore base — flying to Regina and Saskatoon — "it makes sense" to fly out of Winnipeg and then start heading eastward. They also took into account passengers’ connections.
WestJet Encore’s Brandon flights to and from Calgary continue to draw strong numbers.
"It’s maintained its momentum, we’re very pleased with the incredible support ... the Westman community has given us," Ogle said.
"There’s tremendous potential for growth as we go forward, but we have to make sure that we’re building this airline slowly and carefully and with an eye to all possible details."
The city has detailed plans on how it wants to upgrade the Brandon airport, and is hoping for federal and provincial funds.
"We’re thrilled that Brandon has taken upon itself to create this project, and it looks incredibly promising," Ogle said. "Improvement on the guest experience is always a huge piece of what we look for, but it’s not the piece that would determine air service."
Meanwhile, Brandon flyers who hop on board the WestJet Encore service at McGill Field will soon have a couple of new options to choose from.
WestJet announced yesterday morning that its Encore brand will be flying in and out of Penticton, B.C., starting in October, and has added a new direct flight to Kamloops, B.C., from Edmonton, starting early next year.
Neither new flight will be especially convenient for Brandon-based travellers. The Kamloops flight, connecting through Edmonton, is nearly irrelevant to Brandonites, who already have the option for same-day connections to Kamloops in Calgary.
And while the new Penticton flight also flies in and out of Calgary, it departs Cowtown at 2:05 p.m. — about half an hour before the Brandon flight arrives, stranding Brandonites in Alberta for nearly 24 hours before they would be able to catch their connection into B.C.’s southern Okanagan Valley.
On the return leg, the Penticton flight arrives in Calgary at 5 p.m., meaning Brandonites trying to fly home from their winery tours would require another overnight in Alberta before catching the morning flight back to Brandon.
Late last month, WestJet announced the ordering of five new Bombadier Q400 NextGen aircraft, the same turboprop plane currently flying in and out of Brandon daily to and from Calgary. The first of the five will arrive as early as June 2015 and the company says they will help add new destinations as well as more frequent flights to existing destinations.
McGill Field has struggled to provide adequate facilities for the current WestJet Encore service. Despite recent upgrades, the aging terminal is too small for modern baggage and security requirements.
The city has plans to triple the size of the terminal, but the
18-month, $8.3-million project has yet to receive funding approval from the federal government.
The project has already received commitments from the municipal and provincial governments, and the city is set to begin collecting a $5.35 airport improvement fee in August that will be used for capital improvements.