With WestJet’s announcement Wednesday morning of their new ultra-low cost carrier Swoop, Comox Airport’s CEO says there is room for the business model across the country and on Vancouver Island.
Fred Bigelow explains he has been following the development of ULCCs for quite some time while in constant communication with the major airlines.
“What we know about ULCCs, is that they look towards lower cost airports because they want to keep their costs down. They look to places like us because Comox is very attractive and inexpensive compared to major airports whose costs are much higher.”
WestJet noted Swoop will begin selling flights in early 2018, and will provide Canadians with a no-frills, lower-fare travel option. The company has chosen Calgary as the location of its headquarters, the same location as WestJet’s corporate head office.
According to the Swoop website, the base price simply includes just a seat, and the airline is creating a “la carte service that puts you, the traveler, in the driver seat. You can add a snack, checked baggage or in-flight entertainment at an additional cost.”
Geoff Dickson, president/CEO of the Victoria International Airport says today’s announcement is “an exciting time for the Canadian aviation industry.”
He notes he is curious to see how Swoop will fit into WestJet’s current portfolio and what market it will pick up give the airline’s mainstream carrier coverage along with Encore.
“There’s a possibility for sunspot destinations out of Victoria and thinner markets possible for Canada.”
Dickson adds as opposed to other ULCC in Canada such as New Leaf/Flair Airlines which sputtered to take hold, WestJet is in a strong position with more aircraft.
“They have critical mass, which is a big opportunity to succeed.”
The concept of ULCCs has taken off in the U.S. and in Europe, and unlike major carriers, many low-cost carries develop bases to maximize destination coverage. Many do not operate traditional hubs but often fly to smaller, less congested secondary airports.
To make the ULCC model work, WestJet notes they have standardized plane sizes, seating configurations and flight patterns, and “kept the bells and whistles at airports to a minimum.”
“There is room for this business model (in Canada) … because they try to attract flyers that just aren’t flying. Now the guy who wants to fly home to see his parents at Thanksgiving who couldn’t afford it before can now fly,” explains Bigelow.
While there was no announcement about routes or flight schedules, Bigelow notes people will drive to an airport from afar if the price is right for flight.
“A good fare, a non-stop flight to a nice destination will draw people from far and wide. (U.S. low-cost) Allegiant Air uses a four-hour timeline for driving distance for people to go to an airport (with a ULCC). People will drive a long way for cheap fares.”
He adds right now he will monitor WestJet along with their subsidiary of WestJet Encore to see the separation of the regional airline and various discussions with airports across the country.
“Comox remains pretty darn attractive to airlines … we will certainly be in a position to provide who are passengers are and the data that is key to a new route. We’re still waiting to see – it’s a new company, a different brand, different business model. Although it’s co-located (with WestJet), it remains to be seen the management oversight (between the two).”