SYDNEY — The Sydney Airport Authority is already touting the arrival of WestJet’s new regional service to Cape Breton, despite the fact the discount carrier has yet to announce plans for routes in central and eastern Canada.
“It’s already in the works,” said Doug Peach, chair of the airport authority.
“They’ve already made the announcement that Sydney is one of their destinations. We don’t know their schedule yet and we don’t have a date but they’ve already announced.”
In an email to the Cape Breton Post on Monday, WestJet’s manager of public relations Robert Palmer would neither confirm nor deny statements made by Peach that its yet-to-be-launched regional service, WestJet Encore, would make year-round flights out of the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport.
“We haven’t announced any plans for any specific destinations on the East Coast or, in fact, anywhere in central or eastern Canada,” Palmer said.
He said while destinations in central and eastern Canada won’t be added until 2014, the company is focusing on establishing a presence in “smaller communities.”
WestJet has so far only publicly announced Fort St. John and Nanaimo in British Columbia and Brandon, Man., as destinations for WestJet Encore. The regional carrier will officially launch later this month.
The plan is to continue the rollout of destinations in the west before moving east, Palmer said.
He said more communities will be added as WestJet acquires additional Bombardier Q400 NextGen aircraft, a turboprop that can accommodate about 78 passengers.
The company currently has two of the new aircraft. WestJet is expected to add five more Q400 aircraft by the end of the year and has firm orders for a total of 20 more with the option for an additional 25 over the next six years.
Peach made his comments prior to an open house at the airport Thursday to show off its recently completed $5 million in renovations.
He said the increased year-round competition will be good for business at the airport.
“We think the airline industry runs best where there’s competition, naturally. You see that on the summer service where there’s competition, and we’re looking forward to having WestJet Encore in the not-too-distant future.”
WestJet’s seasonal service between Sydney and Toronto began May 16 and continues until Oct. 26.
With an additional Air Canada Jazz seasonal flight to Toronto starting June 22, the Sydney airport will have three daily flights to the country’s largest city.
“When we offer the Sydney to Toronto flights (it’s) about half of our (airport’s) passengers for the summer months,” said Sydney Airport Authority CEO Helen MacInnis, speaking on the demand for greater access to Ontario and beyond during the summer months.
Sydney airport traffic numbers have been headed upward with a 19 per cent increase in passenger traffic for the first quarter of 2013. That’s an 11 per cent increase over the same period last year.
Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke has spoken in the past about the need for increased competition at the airport to drive down airfares.
He said he’s hoping to meet with WestJet officials in Calgary later this month to discuss moving into Sydney on a full-time basis.
“It’ll make it healthier not only for the marketplace but for the consumers,” Clarke said Monday.
“I had that discussion with Air Canada officials that were in last week, and we were talking about the competition, which was very good when Air Nova and Air Atlantic were both competing here and both doing it successfully and profitably.”
During a stop in Sydney in October 2010, then-WestJet executive vice-president of strategy Hugh Dunleavy told the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce the airline would look carefully at the local market to see whether it’s an area where it should expand its service.
In an attempt to offer more attractive fares the Sydney Airport Authority and other regional airports in Atlantic Canada negotiated a flight pass for business passengers travelling to Halifax using Air Canada Jazz.
The airline operates Dash 8 aircraft out of Sydney with a capacity to carry 39 passengers.
MacInnis said the flight pass was successful in increasing passenger traffic on the route.
“That was very well received by the community. Since then, they’ve made it a full time, permanent product so anybody can access that.”