The new CEO for WestJet Encore sees Grande Prairie as an important point in the company’s network across Canada. Charles Duncan was in the city earlier this month, meeting with the local chamber of commerce and airport commission.
After seeing a billion dollar cut in travel in Alberta due to the recession, Duncan says WestJet is beginning to see an increase in travellers in Grande Prairie and the rest of the province. It has responded by increasing flights to and from Calgary from three to four times a day starting in October.
“That’s a big deal for us, one-third growth. We’ve gotten great support from the market here, and it’s not just Grande Prairie; it’s really the whole Peace country, and we are just grateful for support and as we’ve seen increased demand, we’re confident in adding additional flights and service.”
The move announced in July followed January 2016’s decision to cut a daily flight from Grande Prairie to Edmonton. Duncan explains that will continue for the time being, and instead, they’re working to make Calgary the hub for travel.
“Over the years, a lot of the guests on our airplane flying to Edmonton haven’t been going to Edmonton; they’re connecting somewhere else. As we’re shifting connecting flights to Calgary, to some degree, filling the Edmonton flights is more of a challenge, so we’re going to work on the flight times and and see what the best options are for the market.”
Duncan says that includes moving the first flight to Edmonton of the day from 6 a.m. to just before 9 a.m., based on feedback from the Grande Prairie Airport.
Ultimately, Duncan maintains WestJet’s goal is to get people from Grande Prairie to their final destination as efficiently as possible. That also means adding more destinations from Calgary.
“Some really cool places, like Las Vegas and New York City and Mexico that before would have required an overnight hotel stay in Calgary. You can now get same-day with a really nice, smooth connection in both directions.”
Over the past several years, the Grande Prairie Airport has seen major investments into extending one of its runways and the upcoming construction of a new flight service tower. Duncan compliments the team on managing to still keep costs low.
“We’ve seen other places overbuilding the facility, which actually then requires the Airport Improvement Fee that all guests pay get tacked on, and that has a negative impact on demand. There’s a real balance and I think the airport here has that right balance.”
The changes to Grande Prairie’s winter flight schedule will take effect on October 3, 2017.