WestJet Encore heats up competition in Canada’s West

Passengers brace yourself: flying in Western Canada will be cheaper when WestJet Airlines' new Encore regional service takes flight in June.

The airline will first offer daily flights between Calgary and Fort St. John and Nanaimo, B.C., as well as routes between Vancouver to Victoria, using a fleet of 78-seat Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft, the company announced on Monday.

Encore is expected to ignite fresh competition with rival Air Canada, which recently announced more flights in Western Canada.

The low-cost carrier could sharply reduce airfares for regional flights. The introductory fare on one-way Fort St. John routes are $109 plus taxes, or up to about $172 and change. Routes between Vancouver and Victoria are $49, plus taxes.

Robert Kokonis, president and managing director of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc, said the savings could be as much as 50 per cent on some flights.

"Where either there's a monopoly service in place or there's a lack of a non-stop option, WestJet is going to go in and they're going to do a great job to drive those fares down," he said.

"For the average man and woman and child on the street it's good news in terms of enhanced competition."

WestJet Encore is expected to add five more aircraft by the end of the year, and says it has firm orders for a total of 20 Q400s and options for an additional 25 over the next six years.

Ben Cherniavsky, a Raymond James analyst, said WestJet is taking a measured approach to adding new destinations to ensure Encore is grown profitably.

That compares to other failed airlines like the now-defunct Jetsgo Corp., for example, which tried to serve too many destinations all at once, the Financial Post quoted Cherniavsky as saying.

Providing more access to Canadians and new non-stop flights, as well as enhancing the frequency of flights between markets will not only enable incremental growth from new markets but also enhance the overall value for the business market, Ferio Pugliese, president of WestJet Encore, said in a statement on Monday.

Shares of WestJet were up 2.5 per cent at $21.76 on the S&P/TSX composite index Tuesday afternoon.

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