WestJet Encore officials say they are pleased with the response they have received from Westman travellers in the airline’s first two weeks of operation in Brandon.
Ferio Pugliese, WestJet Encore president said ticket sales have been solid, and "to some degree better than expected."
"People are voting with their feet, they’re showing their support by actually travelling, using air service, and that’s what we like to see," he said.
While some flights have been sold out, for the most part the airline is seeing a 70 per cent load factor on the Brandon-Calgary route, which Pugliese said is "healthy."
Forward booking is also looking positive, he added.
"There are certain peaks and valleys in the cycle that we expect, and certainly through the fall months you tend to see business across the board dip a little bit, but nothing that’s showing us any signs of concern," he said.
Pugliese was in the Wheat City Thursday, where he was the guest speaker at the Brandon Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
One of the first things he said to the full house of 340 people at the Victoria Inn was that he is "always impressed and overwhelmed by the reception" WestJet gets in Brandon.
"To see a community come together like this, especially with the chamber … a gathering such as this lunch just demonstrates the engagement of the business community here in Brandon," he said. "I can tell you this is very atypical. You do not see this in every community that we go to."
Pugliese spoke to the crowd about the plans to grow WestJet Encore’s fleet significantly over the next five years.
"We’ve made a commitment to purchase 20 aircraft, Bombardier Q400 turboprop … roughly take a plane a month for the better part of two years," he said. "We then have the option to exercise a purchase of an additional 25."
By the end of this year, WestJet Encore will have seven aircraft, 15 destinations and up to 60 departures daily.
"We started on June 24 with 10 departures daily. When we launched Brandon, we shifted our schedule up to 30 departures a day, by the end of this year we’ll be up to 60," he said.
WestJet launched its air service in Brandon on Sept. 3, offering daily flights to and from and Calgary.
Pugliese spoke to the chamber crowd about why Brandon was seen as a good destination.
"You’ve had quite a large population growth here, over the course of the last six years, it’s upwards of 11 per cent which is sizable," he said.
He said the immediate catchment area is roughly 100,000 people, while the greater southwestern region is about 180,000.
"Over four thousand businesses in the area, you’ve got a solid military base with more than 1,500 personnel … obviously a strong resource sector," he said.
Currently, about 16 per cent of the population uses air service, according to Pugliese, and they would like to see that number doubled.
"We believe that through affordable fares, if we increase connectivity, there’s the opportunity for us to extend that reach and get more people utilizing air travel."
When asked about any potential eastern routes from Brandon, Pugliese said it’s too early to say.
"Nothing is beyond the realm of possibility," he said. "That’s possible, we’re going to look at it, but it’s not something that is in the near future. Let’s get this one going, let’s see how solid it is … and take it from there."