WestJet announced plans for its new budget air service on B.C.’s inaugural Family Day holiday.
Beginning June 24, WestJet Encore will introduce daily non-stop service between Calgary and two B.C. destinations: Nanaimo and Fort St. John.
Flights between Nanaimo and the airline’s primary western hub will be serviced by 78-seat Canadian-built Bombardier Q400 “NextGen” turboprop aircraft. With a long-range cruise speed of 532 kilometres per hour, the Q400 will deliver WestJet Encore’s eastbound service in one hour 27 minutes, with westbound flights estimated to take one hour 43 minutes.
Return service between Calgary International Airport and the Nanaimo Airport will run once each day, seven days a week according to the company’s reservations website. Flight 3109 is scheduled to depart Calgary daily at 11:00 a.m., arriving in Nanaimo shortly before noon PST. Flight 3108 departs Nanaimo at 12:30 p.m. for its return flight to Calgary, touching down at YYC at 2:57 p.m. One-way fares to Calgary from Nanaimo start at $130.17 on bookings.westjet.com, with return flights from Calgary to Nanaimo starting at $150.18.
Nanaimo Airport President and CEO Mike Hooper said no new alterations will have to be made to the airport’s terminal or runway between now and June.
“The work that we’ve done in the last six years — putting in an extended runway, high-intensity lights, lead-in lights, an instrument landing system, the terminal building, the parking — has set the stage so that we can catch more air carriers,” Hooper said. “There’s nothing more we have to do at this stage.”
The community responded to WestJet Encore’s proposed service with a “virtual flood of public support,” Hooper added. “People are delighted that WestJet is coming into the community.”
Regarding public transportation service to and from Nanaimo Airport, Hooper said Greyhound Canada offers six scheduled stops each day.
Hooper said the airport is working with local municipalities, the Regional District of Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley Regional District to expand BC Transit service to the Nanaimo Airport.
“We’re in the middle of the CVRD and the RDN, so we’d be very happy to host a transit station here so that people could go from the CVRD to the RDN and vice versa,” Hooper said. “We’re a perfect hub for that.”
Hooper said the airport has offered to host a transfer station on its land free of charge, meaning the decision now rests with the regional districts.
WestJet spokesperson Robert Palmer, commenting by email, said the company believes its “service to Nanaimo will be successful for a number of reasons. First, we believe there is sufficient traffic between central Vancouver Island and Alberta — and beyond — today, and experience has shown us that when we enter a market our low fares and great guest experience stimulates travel.”
Palmer said “the law of supply and demand” will apply to any future expansion of its Nanaimo service. “If our flights are consistently full,” Palmer added, “it sends a signal that the demand may exist for more services.”
WestJet Encore has yet to determine how many more communities it will serve, Palmer said, but “we believe we will make one more announcement regarding new Encore destinations before the end of 2013.”
Around town, public reaction to the news was largely positive.
Katherine Cunningham said she travels to Alberta twice a year with her family. Cunningham lives close to the airport, she said, but she’s only flown out of Nanaimo once or twice. Instead, she ferries over to the Lower Mainland to fly out of Vancouver.
“As long as the prices are the same as they are in Vancouver,” Cunningham said, “I think [flying from Nanaimo] would be significantly better.”
Cunningham said her only concern was the potential increase in the amount of noise emanating from the airport and she was relieved to learn that the route will be serviced by propeller-driven aircraft rather than jets.
Frieda Douglas, owner of Salamander Books in Ladysmith, said she and her husband were planning on flying to Saskatoon next September to visit their daughter and son-in-law. Douglas said she will certainly consider flying with WestJet as a means of travelling to Calgary while en route to Saskatoon, adding that the only reason someone might opt not to fly with WestJet is “if where you’re going, going through Calgary wasn’t a good idea.”