The CEO of the Charlottetown Airport Authority calls it a history-making announcement.
Doug Newson was at a news conference Friday where WestJet announced a new non-stop seasonal service between the P.E.I. capital and Calgary, the first time there has ever been a direct flight from Charlottetown to western Canada.
The service will operate June 25 to Sept. 7 and, if the demand is there, the frequency could grow.
“This is a significant day for the airport authority,’’ Newson said following the announcement. “I’m not sure anyone would have predicted non-stop flights to western Canada and Calgary out of our small, little Charlottetown, P.E.I., airport but, obviously, there is a business case for it.’’
Newson went so far as to say it’s the most significant announcement the airport has had in the 20 years since it was turned over to the authority from Transport Canada.
It’s the second time in two weeks that WestJet, which has been a carrier in Charlottetown for the past 15 year, has made a major investment in P.E.I. Last week, the airline announced that its discount service, Swoop Airlines, will begin non-stop seasonal service to Hamilton, Ont., this summer.
Service to and from Calgary will operate four times a week on WestJet’s 737 aircraft and Newson pointed out that the airline has 68 destinations out of the Calgary International Airport.
The Calgary service will add about 12,000 seats to the Charlottetown Airport’s capacity (6,000 inbound and 6,000 outbound) and, combined with Swoop’s recent news, the P.E.I. capital has added about 30,000 extra seats in just two weeks.
“It’s a lot, but we know that demand is there,’’ Newson said.
There was a bit of irony attached to Friday’s announcement.
Charles Duncan, the chief strategy officer for WestJet, was late arriving in Charlottetown because his flight got cancelled due to the weather. He and other executives had to drive over from Halifax.
Duncan said, depending on bookings, WestJet will have three different 737 planes coming in, ranging from 113- to 174-seat aircraft.
Duncan said the company’s data shows the demand is there. The airline has been gauging the number of passengers travelling to and from Alberta, via Toronto.
“We had a good feel that the demand was there, so we took the leap this year,’’ Duncan said. “This represents a 35 per cent (seat capacity) increase in Charlottetown, year-over-year, so it is big. We’re bullish on the province and we want to grow (demand). We want to do more, if we can, and we will based on what we see this summer.’’
Duncan said his wife is particularly excited about the new route. They are based in Calgary, and she has never been to P.E.I.
“My wife has read Anne of Green Gables and has lectured me on it. She is excited about this flight . . . and we will be coming out and seeing (the musical).’’
Kent MacDonald, CEO of Tourism P.E.I., said the Swoop and WestJet announcements have created a whole new game plan for the province.
“We’ve done our work and we know that Albertans . . . the demographic out there, the connection with Islanders living in the West today, we think is a great opportunity for tourism,’’ MacDonald said. “We’ve looked at our numbers over the last 10 years, (and the key market) is the Alberta market.’’
Newson said P.E.I. hasn’t put tourism promotional money into the Alberta market. MacDonald said there will be a special campaign for Alberta and that the department’s budget allows for money to be spent in new markets.
Need to know
Following is information on the Charlottetown-Calgary flight:
- Calgary to Charlottetown: four times weekly, departs 10:45 p.m., arrives 6:23 a.m., June 25 to Sept. 7
- Charlottetown to Calgary: four times weekly, departs 7:15 a.m., arrives 9:33 a.m., June 26 to Sept. 7