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WestJet ‘selling N.S.’ to EU

Ed Sims, WestJet president and CEO, poses for a photo at the Halifax Stanfield Airport on Thursday afternoon.
Ed Sims, WestJet president and CEO, poses for a photo at the Halifax Stanfield Airport on Thursday afternoon. RYAN TAPLIN - The Chronicle Herald

f you’re looking to fly to Paris or Gatwick from Halifax with WestJet for Christmas, you’ll have to wait at least a couple of years, says Ed Sims.

“We’ve got to fill the aircraft both ways,” said the WestJet president and CEO. “We’ve got to make sure we do as good a job selling Nova Scotia to the European Union.”

WestJet launched daily flights from Halifax Stanfield international airport to Gatwick Airport in London on April 29 and Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris on May 31 as part of its summer 2018 schedule. WestJet also added a flight from Halifax to Calgary for 15 weekly flights.

To Sims’ satisfaction, the flights have been flying at about 90 per cent full, with 10,000 people on both European routes.

“When you’re taking that degree of risk of flying that far, you want to make sure that you’re flying that full and flying that properly,” said the CEO in an interview at Halifax Stanfield airport on Thursday. “But we’re feeling very confident in operating all three services again next summer.”

Sims and his team will analyze the routes for two seasons before making any changes.

The additional routes have brought commuting pilots and flight attendants to the city, as well as employed airport ground and engineering staff based out of Halifax. WestJet is also in the process of hiring about 40 call centre agents from Halifax to support call centre operations in Moncton and Calgary.

“These are not just jobs, these are high quality and highly sought after jobs. Here at WestJet, we actually reject 98 per cent of people that apply nationwide,” said Sims.

WestJet has seen 160 per cent growth at Halifax Stanfield over the past five years.

The airline is to announce a full transborder joint-venture with Delta next year and hopes to conclude negotiations for a transatlantic joint venture with Air France and KLM, “which would have a significant impact on the economy for Halifax,” said Sims.

On the flip side of adding routes, WestJet reduced service from Halifax to Sydney, while cancelling service to Deer Lake, N.L.

Sims said the company considers if the route is possible or sustainable before reducing services.

“I’d always rather launch new routes than pull out of routes,” he said. “Can we find a more profitable route by flying somewhere else? The answer is usually yes.”

But for now, the WestJet CEO, who was appointed in March, isn’t planning new routes for Halifax Stanfield just yet.

“I really want to make sure we can maintain the new routes, because as I said there was a significant risk behind both Gatwick and Paris,” Sims said. “But there are always other routes that we’re considering.

“If we can add another longhaul transatlantic European destination in 2020, I’d be delighted,” he said with a smirk.

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