Freighter fleet growth strategies vary at Canadian carriers
Canada’s largest airfreight carriers are charting different courses. While Air Canada adheres to its fleet expansion ...
Canada’s WestJet Cargo said it would begin to disrupt the country’s air cargo market after it gets approval for its freighters to take off.
WestJet received the first of four 737-800BCFs a year ago, but has been forced to await approval and certification for Transport Canada. The final freighter will arrive in the fleet “later this year”, it said.
WestJet said the focus would initially be on North America, with routes to Calgary, Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Miami. The freighters will connect to the belly capacity, it added.
Kirsten de Bruijn, WestJet EVP cargo, who joined the carrier about a year ago from Qatar Airways Cargo, said the “long-awaited milestone” would “enable us to disrupt the air cargo industry in Canada by providing our customers with more choice, competitive prices and the exemplary customer service synonymous with the WestJet brand, but unique to the air cargo industry”.
But whether three 737 freighters can ‘disrupt’ the market remains to be seen.
WestJet appears to have a lot of cargo firepower – in HR terms – for a relatively small amount of cargo capacity. Ms de Bruijn is highly experienced in cargo, but has only had seven passenger widebodies (787s) to play with (along with about 100 737s). CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech, meanwhile, was head of Lufthansa Cargo before leaving to head Austrian Airlines before moving to Canada.
And it doesn’t appear that its rivals are too concerned: in an earnings call in 2021, Cargojet chief strategy officer Jamie Porteous told analysts that, despite WestJet’s cargo plans, it would not be a strong competitor.
He said: “There’s really no demand domestically for services, but there is capacity demand for international cargo, particularly feeding [Westjet’s] widebody 787 aircraft. I assume [Westjet would use] those 737-800s they’ve announced that they’re going to convert to feed other parts of Canada. WestJet, I would say, has very little cargo pedigree in the belly of their passenger aircraft and we don’t really believe it’s going to be significant threat to us.”
CargoJet itself said this month it would now no longer take four of the eight B777 freighters it was planning to convert. Four are to be deployed with DHL, but CEO Ajay Virmani said “recent forecasts for the slowing global economy will curtail our capital expenditure and defer taking delivery of the final four 777 freighters, while maintaining full access to our conversion delivery slots”.
Air Canada, meanwhile, is also now a freighter operator. It is operating three 767-300Fs, and has two 777Fs on order, according to CH Aviation’s database.
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