WestJet Airlines launching a new discount airline service makes good business sense, says the director of Kelowna International Airport.
Sam Samaddar says it’s still unknown what markets the no-frills, low-cost flight option will access.
“At this point I don’t know any more than you do, other than I know why they are going in that direction, ” Samaddar said in response to a Black Press inquiry.
He said the Canadian Transportation Agency has to approve the new airline service, likely to occur in late summer or early fall.
“You probably won’t hear anything concrete until then.”
WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky said last week the yet-to-be-named carrier will start with a fleet of 10 Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
Saretsky noted the airline industry has changed since the company began flying in 1996.
“The complete unbundling of services and products in order to lower fares for the price-sensitive traveller has created the ultra-low cost carrier category,” he said in a press release.
“Our new airline will provide Canadians a pro-competitive, cheap and cheerful flying experience from a company with a proven track record.”
Air Canada launched a discount brand Rouge with flights starting in 2013 to destinations in Europe and the Caribbean.
Samaddar said point-to-point markets for seasonal or less than seven-day-a-week service is an underserved market in the airline industry.
“Both Air Canada and WestJet are doing well financially, but if you look at the U.S. market, there is a lot of ultra low cost carrier service to marketplaces. In Canada, there is a void in that scale of service,” he said.
While the traditional path is for airlines to shuffle passengers through main airport hubs like Vancouver or Toronto to connecting flights to other destinations, Samaddar says more and more consumers today are looking for direct air service, a gap that opens up business opportunities for low-cost airline providers.
For the Okanagan, Samaddar says flights to Los Angeles is one destination for local residents in both markets can be better utilized.
United Airlines provided that service from 15 markets in Canada, including Kelowna, until the flight service was stopped three years ago as the airline opted out of the Bombardier CRJ700 style aircraft that serviced those routes.
He says an L.A.-Kelowna flight connection would be mutually accommodating to the Hollywood film business, Silicon Valley high-tech companies, people traveling to Disneyland and cruise ship traffic.
“Time travel between northern California and Kelowna for skiers is less than to go to Aspen,” he noted.
The airport’s continual record-setting passenger visits is also a reflection of the data research done to convince airline carriers to land in Kelowna, presenting business plan models to extoll the potential benefits of flying customers to this market.
“They do their own research in terms of flight traffic numbers but we can bring a local opportunity perspective that airlines can’t really track because they fly to so many destinations,” Samaddar said.
“So when we establish those flight connection routes, it provides more options for people and is always a positive for the local business community.”