BRUCE BUMSTEAD / BRANDON SUN
Security and passenger screen area is set and ready to go for WestJet passengers at the Brandon Municipal Airport.
Today marks the first WestJet Encore flight into and out of Brandon, and local officials say the sky’s the limit for what this major milestone will mean for the Wheat City.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst grins ear-to-ear during a photo-op with WestJet Encore president Ferio Pugliese, left, following the announcement earlier this year that WestJet would be flying into Brandon. The mayor was presented with a desktop model of the Bombardier Q400 turboprop plane that WestJet will use to link Brandon with Calgary. ((BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN))
"It’s going to be dramatically different to live in a community that has air service," Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said.
The mayor, along with city manager Scott Hildebrand, economic development director Sandy Trudel, Brandon Chamber of Commerce president Craig Senchuk, past chamber president Nate Andrews and Virden Mayor Jeff McConnell are a few of the locals who will be arriving on the first WestJet flight this morning at the Brandon Municipal Airport.
"It’s extremely exciting that we’ve been able to land WestJet," Hildebrand said.
"I know it’s been in the making for upwards of 17 years, but I know in the last couple years … the business strategy was right, the team was right and we were able to make it happen."
Brandon had been trying to persuade WestJet to bring regular air service to the city ever since the airline announced the new regional service last year.
As part of the Wheat City’s major push to woo WestJet, a petition was launched, which garnered more than 10,000 signatures. A group of city representatives travelled to Calgary to present a creative business case to the airline in June 2012.
The work has finally paid off, and Decter Hirst is thrilled to be travelling on the inaugural flight. WestJet provided the tickets for the city’s contingent.
"It’s hard to imagine the reality of being connected to the rest of the world," she said. "We’re just so excited."
Hildebrand said regular air service in Brandon is crucial for future growth of the city and the Westman region.
"Having daily air service is more than we expected at the time. We were thinking two or three times a week and we were able to get seven days a week, so we couldn’t be happier," he said. "I think it could lead to a lot of economic development … It’s a good addition to the city."
Daily air service to Calgary will offer "direct connectivity to almost anywhere," Trudel said.
"That means a lot of time saving for our business people that are travelling in and out, for folks that need to come in, whether it be for selling products and such …" she said.
Trudel said air service will open the door to the event market, specifically for events that listed air transportation as one of their criteria.
"We’ve got the whole quality of life element, whether it’s people coming in to connect with family and friends or going out to do the same, that ability now to plan your vacation through a direct route … it really shapes almost every element of Westman’s life," she said. "Right from business down to family and friends."
To celebrate WestJet Encore’s first official touchdown in Brandon, the city is throwing a party at the airport today and all of Westman is invited.
The family-oriented party will happen from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the north side of the Brandon Flying Club hangar. In the event of inclement weather, the celebration will be held inside the hangar.
The free community event will feature, among other things, children’s entertainment and games, complimentary hotdogs and drinks and tours of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum. Additional food vendors and community booths will also be set up.
"It’s an opportunity for everyone to celebrate because this is a long time in coming and just a result of the entire region working together," Trudel said. "So we’re really hoping we see a lot of folks from outside of Brandon and folks from within Brandon getting together because it’s quite a feat for the area."
Special gift bags will be provided to the people on both flights.
"We’ll have a ceremony here in Calgary … and then we’ll all get on the plane and come and enjoy the big event that Brandon has planned," WestJet spokesperson Brie Ogle said.
As of Monday afternoon, there were only 14 seats left on the Calgary to Brandon flight, and seven seats left on the Brandon-Calgary flight.
"We’re anticipating it to be really quite a strong first flight and we love to see that. That’s a really good indicator that the service has been embraced and that it will continue to show strong results," she said, adding ticket sales for upcoming flights are looking positive as well.
"I really want to continue to encourage Brandonites and people from Westman to continue booking and support the service because we’re sure happy to be in there."
Flights, using smaller 78-seat turboprops, will leave Calgary every day at 9:50 a.m. MT for the two-hour flight to Brandon, which will arrive at 12:50 p.m. The return flight from Brandon to Calgary will take off at 1:20 p.m. and arrive in Calgary at 2:35 p.m. MT.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 3, 2013