What are WestJet’s key bases?
Our principal hubs are Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver.
How many passengers did WestJet handle in 2011?
In 2011, WestJet served around 16 million guests.
How do you decide which new routes to operate?
We start off by asking whether there is enough demand from our guests to fill the aircraft consistently and profitably.
This usually involves quality service index based forecasting, a thorough understanding of the marketplace, overall macroeconomic factors, an appreciation of how it would affect our overall network and the costs around the operation. We spend a lot of time working with other stakeholders such as airports and tourism boards to leverage their insight for a successful operation.
Then, we ask whether the destination makes strategic sense, and if it supports other key WestJet initiatives (such as WestJet Vacations, expanding into business markets, alliance hubs, for instance).
What markets are you looking to expand to?
This summer, we expanded our domestic network to include Whitehorse and inaugurated a service to Chicago O’Hare from Calgary and Vancouver which are timed to connect with our codeshare partner American Airlines.
We also welcomed guests to additional ‘sun cities’ such as Kingston (Jamaica) and Aruba. Additionally, we were able to make several cities year-round, including Kona and Lihue in Hawaii. On June 4, we launched service to New York’s LaGuardia Airport which will see eight daily weekday flights from Toronto Pearson.
What is WestJet’s philosophy?
Be appreciative of our people and guests. Positively and passionately create a fun, friendly, caring and safe environment that aligns the interest of ‘WestJetters’ to that of the company. Keep costs down and enrich the lives of everyone in WestJet’s world by providing safe, friendly and affordable air travel.
Perhaps this approach is lofty – but I am confident that we are on track to become one of the five most successful international airlines in the world by 2016.
What attracted you to the aviation industry?
As a child of an expatriate, I was an early witness to the joys of air travel and its ability to bridge cultures and bring people together. We tend to get mired in the detail of our jobs and lose sight of how magical this industry is – and its ability to move a vast amount of guests, their baggage and their freight quickly, safely and efficiently across the globe.
If you don’t believe me, go to the arrivals hall of any airport and you will see the joyful reunions we help be part of!
What is the best and worst thing about being a network planner?
Best:being at the heart of commercial functions of an airline which serves as a platform for other parts to foray from. Being at the heart of a guest’s travel ‘story’ – whether they are going to meet a loved one or flying to sign the next multi-billion dollar deal.
Worst: the number of times I get asked where we are flying to next …
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
In the immortal words of Nike, “just do it” …and have fun while you’re
How many aircraft does WestJet have on order and where might these be deployed?
We have 37 B737 Next-Generation aircraft on order until 2018. These will serve to enhance our capacity in current markets and inaugurate several new ones. Any destination
our guests would like to go to, and within our operational range, is fair game.
We also recently announced the formation of a WestJet regional operation. This separately held entity (which was voted 91% in favour by WestJetters) will have up to 45 Bombardier Q400 NG in the next five years, and allow us to bring WestJet services to new markets, connect existing markets and improve schedules on existing routes.
What kind of split do you get between business and leisure traffic?
We started off as an airline catering primarily to the leisure (tourism/VFR) sector. Over the past few years, we have launched a number of key strategic initiatives aimed at attracting the business traveller, including expanded services on key Canadian and transborder markets (eastern Canada corridor, New York LaGuardia, Chicago O’Hare, etc), strong schedule utility (multiple frequency on key markets), differentiated product and an enhanced frequent guest programme. As we move forward, the split between business and leisure is becoming more balanced.
I strongly believe that once business folks have experienced our award-winning guest service, the value of a big seat at a huge premium diminishes significantly.
We are already seeing guests switch to WestJet on several principal markets.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing commercial aviation?
Fuel costs, especially the associated volatility, continues to be a key area of concern. Additionally, high costs at certain airports, cumbersome taxation and other regulations and
the lingering effect of a global economic downturn are areas we watch very closely.
Who do you admire and why?
I admire strong leaders: people who have a dream and a vision to execute it despite tremendous adversity. In turn, their actions motivate and inspire others and redefine what is possible. As an aviation geek, perhaps it is no surprise that the leaders I admire are aviators. From the Wright brothers to Amelia Earhart to Alberto Santos-Dumont, each has created and pushed the boundary of flight and shown us what is possible. Think of it – none of us would be here (in aviation) without their pioneering efforts.