Eight is Enough, For Now

Today's announcement had us feeling Minnesota, but the real story is the promise of more flights to come
WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech

As corporate rah-rah announcements go, WestJet ticked all the boxes. On Monday morning, the large-scale boarding-pass mock-ups were on display as the brass from the airline, along with civic and provincial officials, slapped themselves on the back for a job well done.

There was a solid amount of Edmonton boosterism as servers passed out miniature breakfasts. The announcement of a new route being introduced at Edmonton International Airport is a big boost to Edmonton’s collective psyche. The announcement of eight new flights — and it doesn’t really matter where they go — is a windfall in the optimism department.

But there was a second part to WestJet’s announcement of eight new routes — to Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, London (Ont.), Moncton, Nanaimo, Penticton, Charlottetown and Ottawa — which was maybe more important than the unveiling of the flights themselves.

WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech repeatedly said that the eight new routes were just the start of the airline’s plan to invest and grow in Edmonton. Basically, this announcement was like the opening act, and that the bigger band is yet to take the stage. He referred to the eight new routes as “the start of our expansion plans in Edmonton.”

That’s right. Start. As in, this is not a one-and-done sort of announcement.

“We’re focusing on the future and building our investments here in Edmonton,” he said.

And there was more.

“This is how we start and, as we grow, hopefully this number will grow, significantly… this is the seed that has been planted here for a tree to grow. So, today’s announcement is just the beginning of our commitment to Edmonton.”

It was as if his speech was a trail of Easter eggs.

He said the airline will grow its network by 30 per cent and hire 2,200 new staff in 2023. The airline has 65 Boeing 737 Max8 planes on order, and an option for 22 more. These are numbers coming out of three years of what he called “crisis mode” brought on by the global pandemic. And part of that labour force is a new crew base in Edmonton, which will host 50 pilots and 100 cabin crew.

“Our investment here and our presence here is not just flights,” said von Hoensbroech. “It’s not just the planes we fly in and out of the Edmonton International Airport. It is the men and women who work for us and call this city their home.”

This will mark the largest expansion WestJet has ever made in Edmonton at one time.

“Let that sink in for a second, the largest expansion ever in our market,” said Edmonton International Airport CEO Myron Keehn. “That’s saying something when it’s already your largest partner.”

But, after listening to what its CEO had to say, we’ll be waiting for more.