When the city’s economic development officer flies WestJet, she makes sure to introduce herself and let the airline’s employees — who are also part owners — know that Brandon needs air service.
“I shake their hand — whether it’s the pilot, the agent at the desk or the stewardess — and let them know the demand in Brandon for air service,” Sandy Trudel said.
Trudel encourages everyone from Westman boarding a WestJet plane to do the same.
“When our people that are flying all over the place can attest to the fact that they are behind this it speaks volumes to the business plan that we have put forward,” Trudel said.
In February, WestJet’s new Encore service announced it won’t be making stops in the Wheat City, electing instead to fly to Fort St. John and Nanaimo, B.C. While the news isn’t what travellers were hoping for, Trudel remains optimistic that the business case for Brandon is very competitive with the other 30 remaining communities making pitches for air service.
“We maintain regular contact with WestJet in a meaningful way,” Trudel said, adding that they keep WestJet’s front office informed of new and expanding businesses that could put Brandon over the top.
“They (WestJet) have a plan and a strategy, so our goal is to keep Brandon and Westman top of mind so they understand the market potential here.”
Trudel said ultimately WestJet’s decision will be based on the business case the city and region can present the airline, but she also said it’s important to stay in the forefront.
Gimmicks such as last year’s April Fool’s Day prank where the city announced WestJet was coming to Brandon or the Valentine from the city to WestJet are designed to do just that.
“WestJet has an amazing corporate culture and we like to take every opportunity to show them how Brandon’s culture is aligned with their culture,” Trudel said.
A petition created last year is still garnering signatures too, Trudel said — an indication of how desperate people in the area want regional air service in Brandon.
“It’s great to see the demand being driven from the grassroots,” Trudel said.
Council continues to make payments to the airport improvement plan reserve, according to Trudel, as the airport will need significant upgrades if WestJet were to come.
“The council annually make allocation to the reserve and if we get the green light then that capital plan will have to be advanced, but council have demonstrated that they are very responsive to opportunities,” Trudel said.
WestJet expects to make at least one more announcement before the end of 2013, with more to follow, said a spokesman with the airline.
“WestJet has firm orders for 20 Bombardier Q400 NextGen aircraft, as well as options on another 45 between now and the end of 2018,” WestJet media relations advisor Brie Ogle said. “The reason we announced two communities initially is due to our delivery schedule, since we will have only three aircraft by the end of the summer.”
Ogle said there are many communities asking questions about the future of the new planes.
“There are many factors considered when selecting communities including population of the city itself as well as the outlying trading area, the health and nature of the local economy, airport infrastructure, prior history of air carriers in the market, the propensity of the population to travel, and the breakdown of business and leisure travellers within the community,” Ogle said. “We have not yet established a firm timetable for future announcements.”