WestJet’s 787s help it address a long haul market worth billions

12 December, 2017

Canada's WestJet ripped up the low cost playbook years ago with new initiatives spanning from the creation of its regional subsidiary Encore to the launch of trans-Atlantic flights with widebody aircraft.

WestJet takes a big step in the evolution of its long haul network when the first Boeing 787 jet is delivered in 2019. The company's 787 debut follows the launch of its ultra low cost airline Swoop in 2018.

The company is making a huge product leap with its new widebody jets that will feature a business class and basic economy offering. WestJet has estimate it would offer 50,000 premium seats in total during the first year of its 787 operations.

CHART - WestJet's main focus remains on its home skies with Canada responsible for more than 80% of its capacity; United States of America (USA), Mexico, Jamaica and the United Kingdom are its largest foreign marketsSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG (data: w/c 11-Dec-2017)

WestJet's business class product suite on its 787 will include flat bed seats, in seat power, IFEC with large monitors, dedicated flight attendants, hot meals and lounge access. Its premium economy product attributes will include a wider seat with more leg room, IFEC with a seatback monitor, in-seat power, a dedicated flight attendant and a dedicated lavatory.

The airline recently stated it is re-positioning its "Plus" domestic service toward the upper end of the market to ensure a natural transition to the premium product on its 787s.

After experiencing major teething problems with the 767 it currently operations to London Gatwick from several destinations in Canada, WestJet executives have consistently touted the financial success of those routes, noting it met the airline's goals of begin accretive during the first year of operations.

Recently, WestJet concluded its load factor on flights to Gatwick for the trailing 12M ending Oct-2017 was 93%, and its point of sale during the summer 2017 season was 58% Canada, 32% UK, 5% US and 5% other.

MAP - An illustrative 787 network map from WestJet shows potential destinations right through the Americas, across to Asia and the South Pacific one way and to Europe and the Middle East the otherSource: WestJet

Speculation continues to swirl about how WestJet will use its 10 787 to build its long haul network beyond trans-Atlantic flights to London. Those aircraft have range to penetrate deep into Latin America as well to Asia. WestJet has offered an illustrative network for the 787s that includes the likes of Sydney, Auckland, Delhi, Dubai, Santiago, Buenos Aires and Istanbul.

The airline has publicly stated the 787s would allow it to bolster its network to destinations in Europe and add new service to South America The company estimates the addressable Canadian aviation market is approximately CAD28 billion, with long haul operations representing CAD11 billion to CAD12 billion of that amount. WestJet is no doubt working hard to capture its fare share of available long haul revenue.