Next stop, Tokyo.
WestJet will begin flying to Japan this spring, its first nonstop Asian destination from Calgary International Airport, using their fleet of 787 Dreamliners to get there.
The Calgary-based airline made the announcement at a press conference Monday morning while also unveiling Calgary routes to Barcelona and Edinburgh. They will also increase the frequency of flights between Calgary, Dublin, London, Paris and Rome. The strategy is designed to better utilize its 787 fleet.
Alexis von Hoensbroech, WestJet’s CEO, said the demand isn’t necessarily from Calgarians flying to Japan — although there is a well-established demand for that — it’s about meeting tourism demand for people coming to Alberta come.
“It’s going to put Calgary on an intercontinental landscape where Calgary hasn’t been in the past,” he said. “I think the upside for Calgary is really fantastic.”
The route will be three times weekly to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport starting April 30, and will be Alberta’s only nonstop flight to Asia.
It may not be the last. Von Hoensbroech, who landed in the CEO chair in February, said this would allow them to further test the market and look at further expansion of their network.
WestJet hopes to time the launch of the new route with Asia emerging from the pandemic. The aim is to capitalize on a renewed interest in flying to Canada, which will be huge for tourism in the province.
Edinburgh will give WestJet their first route to Scotland, but it will be their fourth non-stop route to the UK from Calgary, and will operate three times a week from 17 May. Meanwhile, WestJet’s routes to London-Heathrow and London-Gatwick will both be bumped up to seven times a week, and their route to Dublin will be increased to five flights a week. However, the Heathrow flight remains the only flight throughout the year.
Von Hoensbroech said he was concerned about so many routes to the UK while there were other European destinations, but said the demand was there.
This is the first time there has been a direct flight between Calgary and Edinburgh and it will largely serve as a connecting flight. Von Hoensbroech estimated that around half of the passengers will be people who want to fly to Edinburgh and the rest will have a transfer.
Jenny Gilruth, Scotland’s transport minister, said in a press release that they are investing in this route to make it easier to connect with Canada and the west coast of the United States. Flying to Calgary is a strategic decision for them as the hub for the airline.
“It has the potential to create economic, social and cultural benefits, while also improving our international connectivity,” she said.
WestJet is no stranger to Barcelona, in fact they used to fly there from Toronto and it was a popular route. But with the consolidation of the Dreamliner fleet in Calgary, they are moving the route here.
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The Barcelona route will run three times a week when it launches on May 6, and von Hoensbroech said he expects it to do well here.
“It’s one of the strongest inbound markets to Europe, but it’s also a strong market of people from Spain who want to fly across the Atlantic,” he said.
Despite expanding the workload of the 787 fleet, the CEO said there are no plans to expand it. They announced on June 17 that they were suspending further investment in the wide-body transcontinental airliner, and in September confirmed they had canceled their contract to buy more Dreamliners. Their original purchase order was for 10 with an option to buy up to 10 more.
It’s part of the new strategy von Hoensbroech implemented in June, which saw a consolidation of the 787 fleet in Calgary, as well as a focus on Western Canada and a realignment of regional flights. They have since increased a purchase order for 22 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to 65 with an option to order up to 22 more.
“We’re not going to expand further on the Dreamliner, at least for now — it’s an opportunistic business,” he said. “The expansion and the future sit with the narrow body growth.”