In this January 2006 photo, ground crew ready the first regular scheduled passenger jet in four years at the Brandon Municipal Airport for takeoff. The Air Transat Holidays charter flight was headed to Cancun, Mexico, with 40 people from Brandon aboard.
In the 1987 hit movie "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," John Candy and Steve Martin were forced to use several modes of transportation in a desperate attempt to escape Wichita, Kan., after the plane they were supposed to travel in was delayed.
The movie parallels Westman residents’ real-world plight — forced to use every mode of transportation other than aircraft to shuttle back and forth between Winnipeg and Brandon.
- Jan. 16 — 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. “We kicked the tires and looked under the hood,” Palmer said.
To sign the petition go to bdnsun.ca/westjet.
» Brandon Sun
But that could soon be changing as the City of Brandon continues to lobby hard for air service in the province’s second largest city.
Recently released census data shows Brandon is a city on the move, up 11 per cent in the last five years — something Mayor Shari Decter Hirst was sure to point out to WestJet executives.
"We’re one of the fastest growing cities in Western Canada," Decter Hirst said. "We want (WestJet) to see the potential in this market."
A burgeoning oil economy in the southwest corner of the province is also helping matters, Decter Hirst said, but ultimately she knows WestJet’s decision will be based on dollars and cents.
"It will be driven by the financial business case," she said. "I feel if we can show how committed our community is to regional air service that they will think favorably of Brandon."
The city-created petition to attract WestJet took off like a turboprop air carrier. The lobbying appears to be paying dividends as WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky recently referred to Brandon as one of the areas on WestJet’s radar.
"As we think about where this aircraft will fly, we also create competition among Canadian communities," Saretsky told the Calgary Herald. "Brandon has been lobbying us hard. They’ve put together a WestJet song on YouTube telling us why they think we need to come."
Brandon may be one of the cities WestJet is looking at, but Robert Palmer, public relations officer for WestJet, said the airline is still doing its due diligence.
"When you start an airline there is a very long to-do list and we have really only scratched the top few things off that list," Palmer said.
WestJet plans to announce what cities the regional service will include by the end of this year.
"We intend to launch in 2013, that is our goal," Palmer said.
The plan is to have five to eight turboprop air carriers in service the first year, adding about eight aircraft a year for the next five years, bringing the total regional service to about 40 planes. The gradual growth means even if Brandon isn’t on the first list of destination cities, it doesn’t mean the city is out of the running.
"We won’t be announcing every city because we won’t have the aircraft to do that," Palmer said. "As we take on additional aircraft we can announce additional cities ... if you’re not in the first announcement it doesn’t mean we’re not coming."
The petition and YouTube video demonstrate a level of interest in air service coming to the city, but Palmer tempered that interest, maintaining any decision will be made with the best interest of the airline in mind.
"It’s always great to see that a community is interested in air service, but at the end of the day, the numbers have to work and it has to be economically viable," Palmer said. "The interest has to translate into travel."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 13, 2012