In the short term, WestJet Airlines appears less interested in creating a bona fide competitor to Air Canada’s leisure affiliate rouge and more concerned with incorporating a new type into its fleet.
WestJet management seems well aware other discount airlines, such as Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, with its Boeing 757 fleet, have struggled when adding a new aircraft capable of different types of missions.
“We have to learn the wide-body world,” WestJet spokesman Robert Palmer said, noting the airline must coordinate how it finds new hangars, learns maintenance techniques and trains support staff.
WestJet’s plan remains the same as when it was announced in July. Later this year, it will fly the aircraft within North America to obtain Extended Twin-Engine Operations (ETOPS) approvals, before deploying them to Hawaii in winter 2015/2016. Next, WestJet will likely shift them to international routes in summer 2016.
Most analysts believe WestJet will initially fly them to Europe, perhaps to Glasgow and Dublin—two cities it now flies to in the summer from Halifax, Nova Scotia with Boeing 737-700 aircraft. But WestJet hasn’t given much guidance about exactly where it will fly the aircraft after Hawaii.
WestJet has, however, said the 767s can fly spanning as long as 11 hours, which suggests it would consider flying to Asia from Western Canada, if it can secure the route authorities. WestJet’s main competitor, Air Canada’s rouge, has thus far concentrated its wide-body flying to Europe. Another Canadian competitor, Air Transat, also has a heavy European route network.
Palmer stressed WestJet has committed to only four 767s, saying this is more of an experiment than anything else. All four are former Qantas aircraft now owned by Boeing Capital, which will lease them to WestJet. “If it works, obviously we would have to examine the possibility of purchasing additional wide-body aircraft down the road,” Palmer said. “If it does not, we know that by limiting the purchase to just four, we would be able to shut down the experiment without inordinate costs."
Few North American carriers have tried what WestJet is attempting, and for good reason, according to Jack Keady of Transportation Consulting. In short-haul operations, low-cost carriers (LCCs) have certain advantages, such as the ability to turn aircraft quickly, repeatedly through the day, that more or less dissipate with long-haul flights. “Since they have a nice edge and easy pickings as is, why try something that could backfire?” Keady asked, speaking generally about LCCs.
“Remember, People Express, America West, Braniff and a lot of other carriers that strayed from their normal business plan learned that the hard way.”