Castlegar pitch for WestJet service gets regional support

Councils in Fruitvale, Montrose and Trail have deliberated on the West Kootenay Regional Airport Advisory Committee’s proposal to WestJet.

With a Greater Trail bid for WestJet affections now in the land of broken hearts, two local municipal councils are backing a Castlegar attempt this week to woo the national airline to the West Kootenay.

Councils in Fruitvale, Montrose and Trail have all deliberated on the West Kootenay Regional Airport Advisory Committee’s proposal to WestJet for inclusion as a regional service destination in late 2013.

The committee had asked municipal councils across the region for a letter of support to take in with them when representatives from West Kootenay Regional Airport in Castlegar meet with WestJet company officials in Calgary, June 27-28.

And the support is there. Along with Montrose, Fruitvale spoke in favour of the bid, with Fruitvale councilor Larry Gray noting the addition of another major carrier would be welcome since it would increase the reliability of access to the region.

“If you look at the values overall in the area of economic development, we want to support better air access here, more connections—all those things are good— and we support competition because it keeps the fares lower,” he said.

“And if WestJet were to move into this area as a carrier, I think it would have more impact on Air Canada than it would have on the Greater Trail Airport.”

Trail council debated the proposal in a closed session and several councilors declined to comment on the matter afterwards.

Sandy Santori, executive director of the Lower Columbia Initiatives Corporation (LCIC), was on board.

He felt the Trail Airport’s only airline, Pacific Coastal, was well positioned to retain its market share and continue to grow its business if WestJet opened up shop in the area.

“Pacific Coastal will retain its competitive advantages because they are able to do things that major carriers can’t,” he said.

“There’s no question that, locally, we support both airports in an effort to increase reliability to this region … but we definitely support the inclusion of a major carrier at the West Kootenay Regional Airport in Castlegar. Whether that is Air Canada or it is WestJet it doesn’t make a difference who it is.”

Although Pacific Coastal has proven to be far more reliable than Castlegar’s Air Canada service to Vancouver— a citizen’s report Trail sat at about 91 per cent reliable service in January while Castlegar slid to approximately 74 per cent—a deal for Trail is off the table.

Santori said he made a call to WestJet after the airline announced expansion plans earlier this year, but any serious consideration as a regional destination will not materialize, even though Westjet invited them to make a proposal.

“The reality is they don’t land in unsecured airports,” he said, noting that Castlegar, not Trail, was secured.

Improvements are planned to the Trail Airport, including updating old equipment, the possibility of paid employees, lengthening the runway and building a new terminal building.

WestJet provides scheduled service throughout its 71-city North American and Caribbean destinations. In January it announced it would like to go back to its roots and focus on short hauls, using a fleet of about 40 smaller turboprop aircrafts.

The move is to serve small communities that have asked for its service, optimize the size of its aircrafts to efficiently increase frequency, and create new connections between existing WestJet markets.