A large crowd was on hand Monday, June 24 to welcome WestJet Encore’s inaugural flight to Nanaimo Airport.
As one of the airline’s new aircraft taxied toward the terminal local politicians, airport employees and passengers broke into applause. The flight arrived on time from Calgary in what WestJet Encore president Ferio Pugliese hopes is just one of many direct flights from Calgary to Nanaimo.
“This is just the beginning.Demand has been very good,” he said. “As time moves on and people
get more familiar with it and start to build plans, we think it’s only going to continue to grow.”
Nanaimo is one of two new Canadian cities — the other is Fort St. John — to be chosen for the first round of Encore flights. As the carrier acquires more airplanes over the next few years the regional service will expand to other communities across the country. Currently, Encore is operating just two new 78-seat Bombardier Q400 turboprop airplanes but Pugliese said the company has already placed orders for 20 of the planes. They’ll be delivered one by one, roughly once a month, over the next two years and after that Encore has the option to order up to 25 more.
“It’s a great aircraft. It’s the next generation; it’s smooth, it’s fast, it’s quiet and it’s very fuel efficient,” said Pugliese. “The fuel efficiency allows us to move it quickly but also do it in a very affordable fashion.”
That affordability is expected to benefit the consumer as WestJet and Air Canada Jazz compete for ticket sales. At the same time, the direct flights to and from central Vancouver Island are expected to boost the local economy, increasing tourism in the area and allowing people to travel easily to work in Alberta.
“It’s going to open up all of southern Alberta as well as Edmonton to the Nanaimo market. We saw what happened in Comox when WestJet came in there and we’re expecting the same type of economic stimulus with these direct flights,” said Russ Burke, chair of the Nanaimo Airport Commission. “It’s also going to make air travel a little bit cheaper because we see competition on the route .”
The plan to introduce a regional carrier to Nanaimo Airport has been in the works for about 10 years. In addition to removing trees and extending the runway, the airport has also installed an instrument landing system to make the facility more attractive to carriers.
On Monday, passengers were all smiles as they took advantage of the new service.
“I think it’s just terrific,” said Crofton passenger Pat O’Brien as he waited to board. “I’m really pleased to be able to fly directly to Calgary from here. It saves a lot of time but the convenience of it is the most significant feature for me.”
WestJet Encore departs Nanaimo for Calgary daily at 12:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.westjet.com/guest/en/help/encore.shtml.