It’s been a tumultuous time at WestJet in recent weeks as press releases came in flurries over major expansion plans and in-house matters that will reshape the Calgary-based airline for many years to come.
WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky first unveiled ambitious plans to launch a discount or low cost airline subsidiary which wasn’t well received by the financial markets while days later released changes to its fare structure including a revamp of its upgraded Plus seat fares which were split into Plus Lowest and Plus Flexible with slightly different perks and price points. Then WestJet’s 1,400 pilots voted 97 per cent in favor of unionization by joining the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA), a move that was narrowly avoided in 2016 and which Saretsky said disappointed the airline but vowed to “moving forward as a team.”
All of these momentous moves however were overshadowed by the news that WestJet signed an agreement with Seattle-based Boeing to purchase 10 of the fuel efficient 787 “Dreamliner” aircraft for delivery between the first quarter of 2019 and December 2021 with an option for 10 more aircraft to be delivered between 2020 and 2024. The value of the orders wasn’t disclosed, but part of the cost is being offset by converting orders of Boeing 737s that were to be delivered to WestJet starting in 2019. The arrival of the new Boeing 787 aircraft will replace the existing fleet of older and less fuel efficient Boeing 767’s WestJet introduced into its fleet in late 2015.
With a range of more than 14,000 kilometres and both lower cabin pressure and higher cabin humidity which ease the effects of jetlag, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner opens up a whole new world of WestJet destinations including South America, Asia and Europe. and will take the airline into head-on competition with not only Air Canada with it’s current fleet of 25 Dreamliner’s but other major international airlines so it remains to be seen how well WestJet manages the transition.
The introduction of the 767 aircraft didn’t go well but those planes were well used by QANTAS before being sold back to Boeing and eventually WestJet and had numerous equipment issues that seriously delayed flights to & from London Gatwick in 2016. As the Dreamliner’s will be brand new aircraft right from the factory however a repeat of that debacle is unlikely but there will be a period of adjustment for WestJet that is likely to involve at least a little turbulence as it moves up to the big leagues of international airlines.