Westman residents looking to escape the cold will have a few more flight options out of Brandon this coming winter.
WestJet announced the popular early-morning flight to Calgary, which departs at 6:20 a.m., will be available five times a week for the 2017-18 winter schedule. This brings the total number of flights to 12 per week, up from last winter’s 10.
"That 20 per cent growth is really quite a lot," said Charles Duncan, WestJet Encore’s newly appointed president. "We’ve got confidence in the region, and we really do appreciate all of our guests here and the support from the community."
Last year, the early-morning flight option was only offered three days per week. This additional service includes five incoming flights to Brandon from Calgary, arriving at 11:32 p.m.
Duncan is in Brandon for the official grand opening of Brandon Municipal Airport, which takes place at 2:30 p.m. today.
"Because we’re in town for that, we thought we would just announce our plans a little bit earlier than the rest of Canada for our winter schedule," he said.
The additional flights, which arrive in Calgary at 7:43 a.m., will allow passengers more options for connecting flights, whether it be south for sun destinations, further west to B.C. or off to Hawaii and beyond.
The current summer schedule offers seven flights per week — arriving in Brandon from Calgary at 12:48 p.m., and departing at 1:20 p.m. This will remain through the winter schedule, which begins mid-December.
"That flight certainly has a lot of good connecting options, but the earlier 6 a.m. flight has even more," Duncan said. "It just adds to the number of destinations and convenience for customers."
WestJet Encore has operated more than 3,000 flights in and out of Brandon Municipal Airport since it launched here in September 2013. The company flies a 78-seat Bombardier Q400, which Duncan said is perfect for Brandon’s market.
"Twice before 2013, we did serve Brandon with our 737 from WestJet, which just proved to be too large for the market," he said. "We couldn’t fill the aircraft and it wasn’t economically viable or sustainable."
Following the launch of service with the Q400s, Duncan said flights have been performing consistently well.
Brandon Municipal Airport’s $10.4-million redevelopment has had a positive impact on local operations for WestJet, which has a staff of 10 in Brandon.
"Free parking, no traffic, it’s just such a breeze to use the facility," Duncan said. "It’s really nice, and our hat’s off to the city and all the different parties, for updating the facilities. It’s really impressive."
The overhaul began in the fall of 2015, and was completed mid-May. It was cost-shared by the city, province and federal government.
"As we see the local community and governments investing, it gives us the confidence to also invest in adding service," Duncan said.
Mayor Rick Chrest said he is thrilled to see the additional service planned for Brandon, and hopes for even more options in the future.
"It does show that the service and the demand continues to build which is exactly what were looking for," he said, adding it vindicates the expansion of the airport.
"It’s in the category, ‘if you build it, they will come’ type of thing," he said. "We do hope to just keep building and building on this."
Chrest said the city is willing to work with WestJet in the future to help verify the demand in the region.
"We know that it has to be business-case based, and as a business person myself, I get that," he said.
The airline offered a Toronto route from Brandon for a short stint last summer, but that did not go as well as they had hoped.
Duncan said over the two-month trial, the flights were about half-full, so they had to halt the service.
"Economically, the flights did not do well, which is why we ended the service, and why we’re not doing it this summer," he said. "I wish that our Q400 … had the range to fly to Toronto because I think it’s the right size for that market, but it doesn’t have the range to fly that far."
There are no current plans to give the eastern route another shot, but Duncan said "never say never." When asked if a southern route was ever a possibility, he said there are no immediate plans, and again pointed to the dozens of options offered by the Calgary route rather than one southern destination.
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