Being a long-standing aviation nut it was with excitement that I jumped at the chance to tour the WestJet Campus, the company head office building that forms one part of a sprawling complex adjacent to Calgary International Airport.

Built at a cost of $100 million and opened in May 2009, the six-storey Campus building stands next to WestJet’s Hangar and was built to consolidate the growing airline’s staff who were working out of seven separate buildings spread around the Calgary’s northeast corner. The term “campus” was chosen instead of the more formal “headquarters” or “head office” as it’s meant to convey the educational aspect of the training staff receive as well as being a place where work is done and decisions made.  Much like in the tech sector where Silicon Valley giants like Google and Apple who built their campuses to foster innovation as well as consolidate their corporate and operations so too has WestJet brought all of its various departments into one place.

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The lobby features  the familiar two-tone WestJet which is being transitioned out in favor of a single colour as is shown on the model of the new Boeing 787-9 “Dreamliner” which the airline will add to its fleet in early 2019.

The introduction of Boeing’s 787-9 Dreamliner, a state-of-the-art aircraft, is the dawn of a new era for WestJet and the next step in our transformation to a global network airline,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO in this May 2018 press release. “The updated livery is modern and dynamic while the interior is world-class, distinctly Canadian and uniquely WestJet. Both reflect WestJet’s transition from a regional airline in 1996 to a new era of connecting Canada with the world and bringing the world to Canada.

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WestJet has firm orders of 10 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft and options for another 10, all of which will feature the new livery, logo and interior.

After a light lunch and welcome from WestJet staff our group was off to tour the hangar and get an up close view of the airline’s newest aircraft, the Boeing 737-MAX.

Parked in the huge hangar is WestJet’s first Boeing 737-MAX which it took delivery of in September, 2017 and for those interested in seeing how this aircraft was built there’s an excellent video here. WestJet has 50 of this next generation 737 model scheduled for delivery by 2022.

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photo by author

Our WestJet tour guide Dan noted that the aircraft was being used as a spare ready to be thrown into action anywhere in WestJet’s wide world should it be needed.

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The chance to walk all around the aircraft and see it from a whole new perspective is a rare one afforded to few passengers and included peering into the cavernous baggage holds and CFM International LEAP-1B engines and seeing how the landing gear retracts into the fuselage.

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The aircraft is 14 per cent more fuel-efficient than current 737 Next-Generations and have a reduced operational noise footprint of up to 40 per cent through quiet-engine technology.

The tires last 250 cycles and then are inspected for wear or damage and are mostly flat save for a few grooves which are designed to channel water out. The tires are filled with nitrogen as it expands less than oxygen at extreme temperatures and stays inflated longer leading to less tire wear.

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photo by author

WestJet’s 737 MAX 8 aircraft feature a single cabin with 174 seats with a seating configuration consisting of three rows of Plus in addition to 11 more rows with a seat pitch of 34 inches plus regular economy seating with a 31 inch seat pitch. New tech features include Boeing’s new Sky Interior which has features such as customizable LED lighting, or “mood” lighting, and new speakers to improve sound and clarity of onboard announcements.

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photo by author

photo by author

Like many aircraft cockpits I’ve visited on the ground or in the air the 737-MAX cockpit is snug with almost every square inch covered with dials or knobs. 

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In a separate building adjacent to the hangar WestJet pilots are put through their paces with time in one of three $15 million CAE flight simulators with ultra realistic airport layouts and variable conditions.

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The concrete pad the flight simulator sits on is isolated from the rest of the building so its movements aren’t felt by everyone in the facility.

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There multi-storey atrium in the WestJet Campus is flooded with natural lighting which was by design to reduce lighting costs. Other intiatives such as collecting rainwater in giant cisterns to water the surrounding landscaping helped the facility in 2011 earn gold certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

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The sixth and top floor is occupied by the real power brokers, the accountants, while the airline top brass is ensconced on the fifth floor.

Among the creature comforts for all airline staff is a WestJet Store, a  fully-equipped fitness facility that’s open 24/7 and a Starbucks reputed to be among the chain’s busiest.

photo by author

photo by author

Along the Campus walls are affirmations aimed at fostering what’s become known as the WestJet culture which empowers staff to make decisions in the best interest of their customer and to reward them with profit-sharing programs. That bottom-up management approach was in stark contrast to other airlines such as Air Canada which used the more traditional top-down style and has proved very successful since WestJet’s founding in 1996 even in tough economic times. This success however has created a big enough conglomerate that the corporate culture will need to evolve with its increased global route network and growing unionization.  WestJet has always seemed to defy the naysayers and forecasters of doom so am inclined to believe its stakeholders can manage the new entity and balance their own interests with those of the flying public.

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As if a reminder of the direction WestJet is heading in the near future adjacent to the its existing hangar under construction is another giant hangar to house the incoming Boeing 787-9 “Dreamliner” although staff wouldn’t say which would arrive first, the hangar completion or the delivery of the first Dreamliner.

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Touring the WestJet Campus was a great way to go behind the scenes and learn even more about a company I’ve worked with virtually from its inception so I thank my hosts for their generous invitation and warm welcome.