The WestJet Group is planning to refocus its fleet on Western Canada by adding non-stop routes to more communities, CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech said Thursday (June 16) as he outlined the company’s growth and COVID-19 recovery plans.
In the wake of a strategic review, the airline says it will centre its existing wide-body 787 Dreamliner fleet around Western Canada while also embracing affordable air travel for Canadians.
“The immediate priority is to ensure we are ready for the high volume of pent-up travel demand this summer,” stated von Hoensbroech, who began his role at The WestJet Group in February of this year. “Equally important is charting a path that continues to grow WestJet as the friendly, reliable and affordable airline our guests know and love.”
von Hoensbroech pointed out that WestJet is “strong foundationally,” having weathered the pandemic as “perhaps the world’s only airline of scale that did not accept sector-specific government funding” or issue any new equity or debt.
“We’re now at an exciting and pivotal moment for the industry and our airline,” said von Hoensbroech. “As we emerge from the pandemic, the world around us is changing with rising inflation and instability from the war in Ukraine.”
“We are also facing industry-specific challenges, including spiking oil prices and staffing shortages at airports.”
Investments in leisure & low-cost
WestJet will refocus its growth as “a low-cost carrier that is friendly, reliable and modern,” the company said, as well as investing further in leisure and sun flying “as a priority across Canada,” including through the acquisition of Sunwing (pending regulatory approval).
Other priorities include investing in technology and “radical digitalization” to improve the guest experience and simplify internal processes to maintain a productive “low-cost structure and culture” to ensure competitiveness and affordability.
In order to achieve this, WestJet says it will pause future acquisitions of wide-body Dreamliners, which it uses to fly trans-Atlantic routes, focusing instead on additional narrow-body growth.
The airline says it will maintain its current premium offerings, with a focus on strengthening its premium leisure segment and corporate premium in the West.
WestJet’s regional fleet of De Haviland Q400 aircraft will also be “shifted and rightsized” to focus on Western Canada, removing complexity from operations, and prioritizing the airline’s commitment to enhance regional connectivity.
The airline noted how “network changes are complex” and will be phased in over an extended period of time.
Guests can anticipate seeing changes gradually implemented by summer 2023, WestJet said.
“We will deploy our aircraft where they can be of greatest service to Canadians,” said von Hoensbroech. “While we will be investing the majority of our fleet in the West, as a national airline we will maintain a significant presence in the Eastern provinces, primarily through direct connections to our Western cities, while significantly enhancing our network to leisure and sun destinations, including through our acquisition of Sunwing.”
The Swoop strategy
WestJet says it will also continue to scale other areas of the business that remain critical, namely WestJet Cargo, Loyalty, WestJet Vacations and Swoop, it’s ultra-low-cost carrier.
The acquisition of Sunwing will facilitate the scaling of WestJet Vacations and Swoop, the carrier said.
“Swoop is an important part of our strategy with a tremendous cost structure, and we still have plenty of room to grow and bring lower fares to our guests,” said von Hoensbroech. “WestJet and Swoop will run more complementary networks and collectively meet the demand of leisure travellers.”
Strengthening the airline’s leadership team, the WestJet Group announced the addition of Bob Cummings as president of Swoop on April 13, along with Kirsten de Bruijn, executive vice-president, Cargo on April 5 and Karl Schuster, executive vice-president and chief loyalty officer late last year.
“WestJet’s low-cost roots have been the foundation of the historical success of our company. As we realize our ambitious growth plans, we will bring more air service to Canadian communities and connect more people to what matters most, through friendly and affordable air travel,” said von Hoensbroech.
WestJet has also announced a number of new appointments.
Angela Avery, as group EVP and chief people, corporate and sustainability officer, will lead an inclusive, engaged and purpose-led team focused on supporting all aspects of WestJet’s business and meeting the needs of the communities that the WestJet Group serves.
Avery joined WestJet in February of 2020 from Athabasca Oil Corporation where she was responsible for legal, business development, human resources as well as marketing and transportation.
Christian Novosel will also join the executive leadership team as chief digital officer in August.
Responsible for digital technology delivery, data analytics and business intelligence and the group project management office, Novosel will be integral to the ongoing development and delivery of WestJet’s enterprise-wide digital transformation for both its guests and people.
Novosel joins WestJet with almost 20 years of aviation experience most recently serving as head of corporate development and chief data officer for Austrian Airlines.
Natalie Farand will take on the newly-created role of chief experience officer (CXO).
Led by Farand, the CXO team will define WestJet’s value proposition and enable WestJet to successfully engage stakeholders to activate a guest-centric vision and strategy.
In her eight years with WestJet, and most recently as WestJet’s vice-president guest experience, Farand has led many digital functions from eCommerce, User Experience, Digital Marketing and Analytics.
Finally, Jeff Hagen, who already works at WestJet, will take on a new role as vice-president, strategy and fleet.
Responsible for leading WestJet’s strategic transformation to a low-cost carrier, the strategy team will also encompass the office of the CEO, enterprise strategy and fleet.
Hagen has been with WestJet for more than eight years and has held a variety of roles in that time including corporate development and planning, and head of investor relations.
During this time, he played key roles in important company milestones including the airline’s purchase by Onex and the current Sunwing acquisition.