Jan 1, 2001 | Marmot, Summer 2001

Westjet goes head-to-head with the competition

WestJet's popularity has taken the Comox Valley, and Mt.Washington by storm, ever since the no-frills airline started direct service between Comox and Calgary in March.

Flights started arriving daily in early June, and will continue until September. At that time, the airline will re-evaluate whether to continue with daily service, or go back to five days a week. We’re elated, needless to say,” Comox Municipal Airport manager Chuck Fast said.

The airport has doubled in size since August, as Fast and the Comox Valley Airport Commission struggle to keep ahead of the ever-expanding air service. Kelowna’s Accuratus Engineering and Comox’s Thomas Dishlevoy Architects are designing a new terminal and discussions continue to relocate the terminal to another part of the military air base at CFB Comox. Fast added that he couldn’t have predicted WestJet’s popularity and the business it has brought to the airport and the community at large. In the first month of operation the air carrier saw 4,200 people take flights with them. The next month they carried 4,800 passengers. With 70-80 passengers per plane WestJet is happy. Their average is over 100 here, so they’re really happy,” Fast said. Siobhan Vinish, Director of Public Relations and Communications for WestJet in Calgary, agreed that the fledgling route has been a success. “We’re very, very pleased with the load factor percentage on that route,” she said. Our average load factor for our network is 75 per cent and Comox certainly is within the average. It’s strong for us.” There are now eight flights between Comox and Calgary every week, until September 25. “We’ll re-evaluate from there,” Vinish said, adding that the route has been a benefit to travelers going both ways. WestJet has also decided to offer same-plane service from Comox-Calgary-Edmonton. As early as next fall people won’t have to spend a two-hour layover in Calgary before changing planes to get to Edmonton, and vice versa.

For Mt.Washington, WestJet’s arrival was too late to have any real effect on the 2000/2001 ski season. But they’re still excited about the possibilities the new air connection opens up. “We think the impact is going to be this winter,” says Director of Resort Services Don Sharpe. “The easy access for people from Edmonton and Calgary will be a big bonus for us.” A lack of snow in the Rockies ? which Alberta ski resorts experienced last winter ? and increased recognition of the Comox Valley area with prairie travelers will benefit the whole region. And what’s good for the north island is good for Mt. Washington, Sharpe said. “Once (tourists) are here, they’ll spend in whatever place they go.” One place they’re already spending in droves is Crown Isle Golf and Resort Community. From golf packages to a luxury villa, Calgary residents are willing and able to spend their money at the golf resort. Mt.Washington, Crown Isle and WestJet have teamed up for a unique, fly-golf-ski promotion that will continue in the fall. Each WestJet boarding pass from the Comox-Calgary route will offer a free round of golf at Crown Isle or a free lift ticket at Mt.Washington for the holder. The airline is also good about sharing advertising promotions with businesses, Sharpe said. “We’re advertising in their in-flight magazine. We have a good rapport with the WestJet people and who’s there, and are learning how to make things happen.”

WestJet announced in the spring that it has made another big jump in quarterly profits. The no-frills carrier made $5.8 million last quarter, a 37-per-cent increase over last year. Revenues soared by 55.3 per cent to $92.3 million. “Clearly, we had an excellent year last year,” chief executive Clive Beddoe said.

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