In an interview with Northern Life newpaper, Terra Glabb, business development director with the Sudbury Airport Community Development Corporation, said the airport has enjoyed impressive growth since Porter Airlines began flights to Toronto Island Airport in 2010.
But unlike Porter, WestJet flies into Pearson International, allowing travellers to connect to international flights, which Glabb said would be a significant boost to local travellers.
“They have a vast network now,” Glabb said. “And I think that would mean a great deal to people in our community, to be able to make that connection.
“We want to keep growing our market so that when and if WestJet decides to come here, we have the market and the people to support that.”
WestJet was expected to announce sometime in January whether it will begin its expansion in Western or Eastern Canada. It’s looking at adding 10 airports to its routes, adding one plane a month to its fleet starting in the spring. The new routes will fly under WestJet Encore banner and employ smaller aircraft.
WestJet failed to make a go of it in Sudbury in 2001. The airline was using Boeing 737s but for this round of expansion is switching to smaller Bombardier Q400s.
The airline is looking to add five to seven Q400s this year, and more in 2014.
Sudbury was one of 32 airports to meet with WestJet’s last June in a speed-dating-style format.
Glabb said while some cities offered incentives to WestJet, Sudbury’s pitch focused on the local market.
“Our experience has been that, at the end of the day, there has to be a business market. A community can certainly put up money, but there has to be a market to sustain service.
“Eventually if an airline doesn’t have passengers on their aircraft, it won’t last. Our approach always is to do our research and make sure we have the market. And we explain that to any airline.”
Passenger numbers through the facility increased to 250,000 in 2012, compared to less than 145,000 in 2004. It expects that figure to increase to 350,000 by 2017. Operating profits were close to $1 million last year. The Sudbury airport has added 90 jobs since 2000, bringing its workforce to 200.
Jennifer Sanford, spokeswoman for WestJet, said in an email that Sudbury’s strong economy is an asset.
“We look at the local economy and that of the outlying trading area,” she said. “For example, are there large industries or employers in the area? We look at both business and leisure travel and we look at both ends of the telescope. Who will be travelling to this new destination, and will people who live there want to travel, as well?
“In the end, the airline must be satisfied that the community can and will support air service on a long-term basis.”
She also said even if Sudbury doesn’t make the first cut, that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually land the Encore service.
“As WestJet takes delivery of additional aircraft, more cities will be added. Once additional aircraft are delivered in 2014, WestJet will launch regional service in the other regions (that did not receive service in 2013) sometime that year.”