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WestJet says Encore going to Toronto, Thunder Bay as part of eastward expansion

A WestJet plane is shown in flight in a photo posted on the airline's Facebook page on Aug. 20, 2013. FACEBOOK/WestJet

WestJet Airlines unveiled Monday details for the eastern expansion of its regional WestJet Encore service this summer.

The Calgary-based airline said WestJet Encore will start June 27 with routes between Toronto and Thunder Bay, Ont. and between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg.

The airline has been growing its regional service since last June from its base in Western Canada.

WestJet did not say what additional routes will be added, but it expects that about half of its four- to six-per cent capacity growth in 2014 will come from Encore.

Encore currently operates eight Q400 aircraft, but the company eventually plans to fly 45 planes to destinations in Canada and the United States.

WestJet also announced Monday that WestJet Encore will start flying between Fort McMurray, Alta., and Kelowna, B.C., and between Fort McMurray and Vancouver starting in May.

The main WestJet service is also increasing its flights serving Fort McMurray, with new non-stop flights to Las Vegas, more frequent flights to Calgary and Edmonton, and conversion of daily Toronto non-stop flights to year-round service.

WestJet announced earlier this year that it would start flying to Dublin between June 15 and Oct. 5.

The airline sees the potential to eventually fly to four or five European markets, but plans to use the initial effort to learn about the new market.

“The latest schedule reflects the varied needs of the many guests who choose WestJet,” stated John Weatherill, director network and schedule planning.

He said added in-flight service, increased flight frequencies and non-stop service is designed to attract more business travellers and appeal to leisure travellers.

Chief financial officer Vito Culmone told an investor conference last week that it will soon begin to start exercising the 25 options it has with Bombardier, in addition to the 20 firm orders for Q400s.

“What we have seen thus far in those new destinations is that the flow traffic that is coming from those regional markets into our WestJet mainline is actually exceeding our expectations,”he said at an AltaCorp Capital event.

He said service between Toronto and New York is an example where the Q400 could be used instead, while the Boeing 737s to more profitable routes.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, WestJet’s shares lost 17 cents at $26.91 in midday Monday trading.