Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet has jumped the Pond with new services to the EU. Has it been a smooth landing?
When WestJet Airlines, a Calgary-based low-cost carrier established in 1996, featured in Airline Ground Services’ Winter 2013/Spring 2014 edition, it operated an extensive network across Canada, the US, Mexico and the Caribbean. Two years later, it has taken its services to the next level by launching two summer services to the UK and Ireland and announcing a third service to another European Union destination.
The start of routes to Glasgow and Dublin in May, 2015, to be followed in 2016 by the launch of a service to London Gatwick, means the carrier has entered one of the most competitive traffic lanes in the world. As there is not a ton of growth among new flyers crossing the Atlantic, will WestJet have to bear down on what it pays for ground handling to stop the bottom line bleeding red?
Andrew Kay, WestJet director of International Airports, considers that its partnerships with third party ground handlers will ensure the expansion is profitable. He says: “We do what we do to liberate Canadians from the high cost of air travel. Apart from Air Canada, there are many other carriers our guests or potential guests can book with. Our partners are also in this business to make sure our guests keep coming back. We work with these handling companies to ensure a successful relationship.”
Glasgow Airport (GLA) welcomed WestJet as a new customer on 30 May with the launch of a daily service until 31 October. The same-aircraft daily service begins in Toronto with a stop in Halifax. The airline is Menzies Aviation’s first Canadian carrier at GLA.
The WestJet service to Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, lands at 8.00am local time, offering opportunities to connect via 30 airlines to more than 100 non-stop and connecting destinations across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Australia.
Sharon Robertson, Menzies Aviation’s Station Manager GLA, said: “We fought hard to win the contract over Swissport and we’re delighted that WestJet have signed up for a three-year contract. The win has allowed us to employ additional staff and the team has embraced WestJet wholeheartedly. It’s a fantastic addition to the GLA portfolio.”
Across the Atlantic, Menzies handles the WestJet ramp in Toronto, Canada and acts as WestJet’s cargo handler in Calgary and Vancouver. Menzies also provides the carrier with below-the-wing services in Mexico.
In coming to Europe, Kay and his team were conscious that they were entering a new regulatory and legislative regime in regards to ground handling operations. That is why they undertook due diligence checks on the new markets.
He says: “There was nothing that was significantly surprising. We do our best, through publications like Airline Ground Services as well as industry events and groups, to remain up to date in as many jurisdictions as possible.
“There have been some additional procedures we have needed to put into place to ensure we are in compliance with European passenger rights legislation. At this point, in using both Menzies and SkyHandling Partner, we have left the old world labour laws in their capable hands.”
The airline uses a 137 passenger two-engine Boeing 737-700 on the Dublin and Glasgow routes. The aircraft has a 90-minute turnaround following its 8.00am arrival in Scotland and an 80-minute turnaround after its 7.00am arrival in the Irish capital. In 2016, the carrier will use a larger Boeing 767 for flights to London Gatwick.
WestJet offers complementary refreshments and snacks. Kay says: “The option to purchase items such as sandwiches, cheese trays and alcoholic beverages is also available onboard. We do not uplift catering in Glasgow or Dublin. Our guests travelling in Plus receive these food items as well as beverages such as soft drinks, beer, wine and spirits included with their fare.”
WestJet has announced its expansion to London Gatwick (LGW) in 2016. The airline will begin the services on May 6, 2016. However, many technical and operational details are yet to be planned. Kay says: “The announcement to fly to LGW was made relatively early and as such, we will explore and consider our options for handling in the near future. Our normal process following this information-gathering is to issue a request for proposal outlining our required scope of services.
“Once responses are returned and reviewed, the contract will be awarded to the handler that fits our culture, guest experience, and pricing model. Menzies in GLA provides us with a great team that complements the guest experience in all of our WestJet bases.”
The low-cost airline avoids air freight movements in North America as being a brake on turnaround times and not being a core business activity. However, in establishing its Irish route, the carrier took advantage of the 1,555 ft³ (44m³) of forward and aft cargo holds to develop a stream of cargo to and from the Republic of Ireland.
Kay says: “We have been really happy with the cargo going into and out of Dublin. We welcome both Canadian and Irish freight with equal aplomb.”
It is too early to know whether cargo service will be offered to Glasgow, he notes. “We would always be willing to look at options for cargo into or out of Glasgow. This will be contingent on the routes we fly as well as the aircraft that flies the route.
“We are really pleased with the cargo business in general and analyse every route we fly to see if we can make it successful from a cargo perspective. That analysis for LGW will be occurring in the near future. The range of our 767 provides us with a lot of opportunity from a variety of origins in Canada.”
Jettainer, the leading international service partner for outsourced ULD management, has been selected to manage and maintain the pallets and containers of WestJet. Operations are in conjunction with the inaugural flight of the carrier’s first wide-body service.
As a first step, WestJet will utilise a mixture of nearly 400 pallets and containers. They will come into operation on flights of a Boeing 767-300ER aircraft delivered to WestJet recently; three more of the aircraft type are to follow.
When the decision is made as to whether freight services are offered to and from LGW, a request for proposal will be issued for a cargo ground handling provider.
Kay says: “We have been successful in more than 90 airports in over 20 countries in working with ground handling partners to ensure our safe processes are followed. Our move to the other side of the Pond has been a great success and we look forward to repeating our success as we build on our European destinations with Gatwick next summer.”