In July 2016, Saskatchewan’s aviation transportation sector experienced some turbulence when Delta Airlines halted service to Regina International Airport. American Airlines already suspended flights to Denver and Chicago in 2015. Regina’s only remaining direct route to the United States is WestJet’s popular Las Vegas flight.
Most international outbound travel from Saskatchewan now starts with a flight to the nearest major hub: Calgary, Vancouver or Toronto. In order to navigate the airline network, travellers must budget more time and expend additional resources.
“Over the years,” says Rhonda Smith, V-P of Retail Operations for CAA Saskatchewan, “airline carriers have been able to fit the size of their aircraft to our population.” Smith cites shorter airport line-ups and a central location within Canada as unique benefits that the Saskatchewan traveller currently enjoys.
Stephen Maybury is President and CEO of the Saskatoon Airport Authority and he’s bullish about the network of routes currently on-offer to outbound travellers. “We are very, very well served through Canadian hubs. If you do a comparison of connectivity, Saskatchewan is still a reasonably strong network.”
The Saskatoon Airport Authority wants to provide the best value people can get at a Tier Two airport. In 2016, the SAA won the most improved airport in North American award for airports with less than two million passengers. “We want to be the most valued airport experience in Canada,” says Maybury. “How do we attract the most value for our guests?”
To that end, Maybury is currently immersed in a mandatory master plan for the site. This plan includes a major expansion of the airport’s parking facilities from one to four parking options and a renovated departures area and baggage kiosk. Maybury is also optimistic about one Canadian airline’s bold decision to expand into new markets.
“WestJet has some very ambitious plans right now and that’s very good news for our market,” says Maybury.
Not content to already dominate the discount niche, WestJet airlines is launching an Ultra Low-Cost Carrier (ULCC) service at the end of 2017 or early 2018. “We’re really looking to broaden growth opportunities for WestJet and open up new market segments,” says Lauren Stewart, the Calgary-based carrier’s media relations advisor. “This offers more choice to Canadians who are looking for even lower fares.”
WestJet is also expanding into global markets. The airline has ordered ten Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners with the option to purchase an additional ten. This acquisition will allow the discount airline to fly to new destinations in Asia, South America and Europe.
When WestJet’s first Boeing 737 lifted off from Calgary airport in 1996, it didn’t fly east of Winnipeg. The upstart’s distinguishing feature was a focus on affordability and upbeat customer service. The company saw the value by offering an alternative to the larger and more staid Air Canada.
While WestJet expands into new markets, and Saskatoon Airport Authority celebrates its customer service capacity, Regina International Airport is busy extracting as much value as it can from its land holdings.
John Aston, the airport’s Director of Planning, intends to bolster Regina’s terminal through increased commercial activity and an architectural facelift. “If we increase our revenues, we can attract more carriers to our airport,” says the urban land economist.
The aviation sector is on an uptick thanks to plans to upgrade facilities and the ambitions of a once-regional airline—which should translate into more options and savings for Saskatchewan business and leisure consumers.