With the announcement of the cities that will be served by new regional air service WestJet Encore expected on Jan. 21, Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and city officials remain cautiously optimistic about Brandon’s chances of landing the new service.
That being said, Decter Hirst said WestJet has done a good job keeping the expansion under wraps and even if Brandon isn’t included in the announcement, both she and the city will continue to work to bring air service to Brandon.
"We don’t know right now if Brandon is included in that announcement or not," Decter Hirst said. "There are about 50 different communities and airports all vying for seven planes in 2013."
In June, city officials flew to Calgary to make an elaborate pitch to WestJet executives in a bid to secure the new air service.
The creative pitch included identification tags with phrases linked to Brandon, postcards with Brandon landscape and streetscape scenes, fake boarding passes to Brandon in a WestJet envelope and a mockup of a WestJet airline magazine.
The magazine was loaded with advertisements from the Wheat City, stories about Brandon and even a mock contest advertising dinner with the mayor and a shopping spree. The crossword puzzle offered many clues, but all had the same answer: Brandon.
Decter Hirst said city officials left the meeting with WestJet feeling good, but she also understands the decision will ultimately be made based on dollars and cents.
"They are being driven by the business case and profitability," Decter Hirst said. "They will go to markets with the best return first. I can’t speak for the other 40-odd communities’ business cases, but I do know when they were here the planes had a very high load capacity, which means there is demand."
Brandon’s business case is strong, according to Decter Hirst. A case that includes everything from a healthy business community, to an expanding population, an unserviced market with a major Canadian Forces base, and a burgeoning oil sector.
"Time is money in the business world and in the oil sector it would be immeasurably helpful to have air service and it would also add to the bottom line of WestJet and various research development firms," Decter Hirst said. "(Getting air service) will open up so many more economic development opportunities for the city."
But it’s also more than that, Decter Hirst said, it’s that people expect local air service in cities these days in order to stay connected with friend and family around the world.
"It’s important for quality of life," Decter Hirst said.
BRANDON’S WESTJET TIMELINE
• Jan. 16, 2012 — WestJet announces it is considering the launch of a new short-haul regional airline as early as 2013.
• Jan. 27 — YouTube video urging WestJet to come to Brandon is uploaded.
• Feb. 8 — WestJet employees voted overwhelmingly — 91 per cent — in favour of the launch of a regional airline. That same day, the City of Brandon launched a petition to attract WestJet to the city.
• March 5-9 — WestJet executives look at the Bombardier Q400 and ATR72-600. Both turboprop airplanes that could carry about 70 to 75 people.
• March 29 — The petition to get WestJet air service to Brandon reaches 10,000 online with 45 per cent of the signatures coming from within the city, 34 per cent in the province, 19 per cent from within the country and two per cent abroad.
• April 1 — Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and the City pull an April’s fools joke and proclaim that "Brandon Lands Passenger Air Service." The joke catches the attention of WestJet executives who are pleased with the "enthusiasm" of the community.
• April 11 — Brandon launches an "air service" to ask where the people of Westman would like to fly.
• April 12 — The City unveils conceptual plans for an approximate $1.5 million renovation project to the Brandon airport should the city secure regional air service from a national airline.
• June 6 — Brandon makes its first pitch to WestJet in Calgary. Wooing WestJet was "a little like speed dating or ‘Dragon’s Den,’" Decter Hirst said about the 25-minute presentation. The pitch involved identification tags with phrases linked to Brandon, postcards with Brandon landscape and streetscape scenes, fake boarding passes to Brandon in a WestJet envelope and a mockup of a WestJet airline magazine.
• Aug. 11 — WestJet officials contact Brandon city officials to seek clarification about the bid to secure air service. "We are having technical conversation and the dialogue continues," which is a good thing, city manager Scott Hildebrand said.
• Oct. 12 — WestJet names its new regional service WestJet Encore.
• Nov. 3 — WestJet remains noncommittal about new air service in Manitoba, but Winnipeg Airport executive Barry Rempel said "I’m certain Winnipeg will see some benefits from the launch of that service."
• Nov. 19 — WestJet announces regional service will spur passenger demand by offering fares at up to half the amount charged on those routes by monopoly operators, chief executive Gregg Saratesky said.
• Jan. 7, 2013 — Decter Hirst confirms the city is still in contact with WestJet about securing regional air service and are awaiting WestJet’s announcement.
"We don’t know right now if Brandon is included in that announcement or not," Decter Hirst said.
• Jan. 21 — WestJet is expected to announce WestJet Encore’s initial schedule in Canada.
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