WestJet to launch new charter service to redeploy capacity from Alberta

CALGARY — With Alberta’s economic downturn continuing to be a drag on earnings, Calgary-based WestJet Airlines has announced that it will launch a new charter service in an effort to redeploy capacity to other markets.

Chief executive Gregg Saretsky told investors earlier this week that he’ll be making the official announcement shortly. While he didn’t reveal specific details, Saretsky did say the new service would be an opportunity to redeploy capacity from Alberta where the market continues to be soft.

“We’re very excited about it, it is a new line of business,” he said at the company’s annual meeting on Tuesday.

The news comes just a few days ahead of WestJet’s brand new direct flights to London, England onboard wide-bodied Boeing 767s. According to Saretsky, the aircraft will also open up the potential for other cities within the plane’s 12-hour flight radius.

“It brings geographies like South America and Asia and other points in Europe all in play. And so ultimately, those are all opportunities for WestJet,” he added.

The talk of diversification comes as the company reported a 38% drop in profit due in large part to Alberta’s weak economy. WestJet earned $87.6 million or 71 cents per share on $1.03 billion in revenue in the first quarter, compared with a record net profit of $140.7 million or $1.09 per share on $1.08 billion in revenue in the first quarter last year.

Despite this, Saretsky said it was the second-best first quarter for the company, with lower fuel prices helping buffer from the downturn. He said it was too early to call a bottom as the oil and gas downturn and layoffs continue to create knock-on effect on things like restaurants and real estate.

“So to the extent that all those things create some drag on the economy, I think there’s still some more tough times ahead,” Saretsky said.