Mayor Jim Scarrow and a number of other Prince Albert city officials travelled to Calgary last week to explain why the Prince Albert Airport would be a good fit for the new airline. Prince Albert was one of 30 communities invited to make a presentation.
“I think it went very well,” Mayor Jim Scarrow said. “We certainly have a strong case for WestJet to consider adding Prince Albert to its regional airline service.”
WestJet made an announcement earlier this year to launch a short-haul airline that would operate in smaller markets across Canada.
According to Scarrow, the Prince Albert Airport serves a higher number of people than most communities the same size because all scheduled flights into northern Saskatchewan go through the terminal.
“We have a market area of somewhere between 150,000 and up — and that includes literally all of northern Saskatchewan,” he said. “Then we have significant numbers of people who make Prince Albert their centre for retail professional services for entertainment and for health reasons.”
Scarrow said WestJet was presented with all of the data the airline would need to know thanks to the master plan the city completed a couple of years ago as part of an airport study.
As a part of this plan, the airport is currently replacing asphalt on the runway with $6 million in federal funds.
The type of aircraft WestJet is planning to use in the new airline is a Q400 NextGen turboprop from Bombardier.
The plane seats up to 78 passengers and reaches jet-like speeds of 667 kilometres per hour.
“The runway is pretty well structured to accommodate an aircraft of this size without any problem at all,” Scarrow said.
The next part of the city plan for the airport is to increase the size of the terminal. This increase would also be able to accommodate the passenger load this type of aircraft would require.
WestJet has placed a conditional order of up to 20 aircraft with an option for purchase of an additional 25, from Bombardier and expects to launch the airline in certain communities in late 2013.
Each aircraft costs close to $34 million per plane. According to a press release on Bombardier’s website, an order of 20 aircraft is valued at $683 million US.
“You don’t buy a whole bunch of those real fast, you kind of work them into your system,” Scarrow said.
However, if selected, Prince Albert may not begin to see the planes for a number of years.
“While we’re very enthusiastic about Prince Albert —and we were able to I think show that enthusiasm to WestJet — the proposed regional airline will be rolled out over several years,” Scarrow said. “Not all of the aircrafts will be available … (WestJet has) placed orders up to 45 aircraft over the next five years. In order to have the fleet available, they would start with a small group of cities and then gradually grow from that over the years.”
“They would also look at a strategy for the long-term basis of where to begin and that will have some varying as well as to the timing of adding centres like Prince Albert,” he added.
Cities from across Canada were represented at the meeting including Victoria, B.C.; Brandon, Man.; Quebec City; Gander, NL and Charlottetown, P.E.I. Prince Albert and Yorkton were the only communities in Saskatchewan invited to make a presentation to WestJet.