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WestJet Encore heats up competition in Canada’s West

Passengers brace yourself: flying in Western Canada could 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 described at the time as a "pre-emptive move on the part of Air Canada to get out and protect its turf,” according to Rick Erickson of RP Erickson and Associates in Calgary.

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.

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.

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.

"It's good news for consumers," Robert Kokonis, president of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc, told the Canadian Press.