“The Canadian air cargo market is underserved,” Executive Vice-President, Cargo, Kirsten de Bruijn stated in CargoForwarder Global’s panel discussion ‘Air Cargo – From Spotlight
to Highlight’ on 09NOV22 at the TIACA Air Cargo Forum in Miami. She went on to say: “And we, from WestJet Cargo, are going to change this.”
It is a very confident assertion, because with Air Canada Cargo and Cargojet, there are already two airlines dominating the Canadian air cargo landscape. However, this seems to spur WestJet Cargo on rather than settle for a niche existence.
It is a dream that many people working in the air freight industry surely entertain: the chance to set up a cargo division from scratch at a fast-growing North American airline. For Kirsten de
Bruijn, this has become reality. The Dutch national joined WestJet on 05APR22, becoming Executive Vice-President, Cargo. Prior to her appointment, she served as Senior Vice President Cargo Sales
and Network Planning at Qatar Airways, where she was responsible for the Middle East carrier’s global cargo sales organization, including product development and marketing. She brings a wealth of
knowledge and experience to WestJet’s executive leadership team.
At WestJet, exciting tasks await her and her cargo colleagues. A core mission is to build up the company's own freighter fleet and market its capacity. The starting signal for this was given with the acquisition of 4 B737-8 Boeing converted freighters (BCF). While three of the aircraft have already been delivered but are not operating yet, a fourth unit is due to arrive in time for linehaul flights planned to start with the Summer flight schedule on 26MAR23. The four freighters will complement the belly capacity of the passenger fleet currently consisting of around 170 aircraft, mostly B737-700 and B37-800, but also 18 B37-MAX-8. In addition, seven B787 are in service, operating long-haul routes to European destinations, among them London, Paris, and Glasgow. Since 42 MAX-10 have been ordered, the fleet will grow successively upon their delivery from frame maker Boeing.
Also worth noting is that, in OCT22, WestJet acquired Toronto-based leisure carrier, SunWing Airlines, which operates 14 B737-800s and 6 B37-MAX-8, primarily serving destinations in the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. In a nutshell, thanks to the size of its fleet, WestJet can offer the market a growing chunk of lower deck capacity for cargo transports on domestic but also international routes.
50% shippers, 50% forwarders
Pushing seafood and pet transports further up front, two main products flown by WestJet Cargo, and increasing the number of freight forwarders that will use WestJet Cargo to fly their consignments, are other demanding tasks Kirsten and her team are facing. Currently, forwarding agents account for only 50% of all goods flown on board the airline’s fleet. The other half is contributed by shippers and businesses directly.
From an air cargo perspective, flights between Toronto and Vancouver are top of the list. “Serving this city pair is our most important route,” CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech confirms.
The executive, who headed Lufthansa subsidiary, Austrian Airlines (AUA), for almost 3.5 years, joined WestJet in Q1, 2022, becoming the carrier’s CEO. Prior to his AUA engagement, he was Chief Commercial Officer at Lufthansa Cargo, so he knows the air freight business inside out.
Alexis confirms Kirsten’s assessment that there are communities and regions in Canada that are underserved. “A considerable number of communities are dependent on air transport as this is their only lifeline,” the CEO states. These remote locations, such as Yellowknife in the Yukon Territory or Kelowna in British Columbia, are primarily served by the subsidiary WestJet Encore. The carrier’s fleet consists of 47 Dash 8-400 turboprops that mostly operate passenger and cargo feeder services for its parent company.
Stan Wraight predicts a war of (cargo) titans
However, Stan Wraight objects the assumption that the Canadian air cargo market is underserved. The President and CEO of SASIWorld, a Montreal-based leading international advisor to the air cargo industry, cites the imbalance in cargo aircraft as main reason for his statement. “WestJet’s 737F are niche aircraft, only suited to express and ecommerce. So, to start a fight with Air Canada, who have a huge domestic passenger and soon freighter market, plus their retail arm, Rivo, offering fast and flexible shipping solutions door-door, will be a hard slog.”
Stan goes on to say: “As a matter of fact, I believe that by 2024, we will have a possible war of titans, with Air Canada having 12 converted 767F, two production 777F on order, plus a recent plan to convert three of their own aircraft also to freighters. Add to that Cargojet, who are very, very well positioned in Canada. Plus, they have a major investment in Air 21 USA AOC, are very high quality, experienced, and growing. They also will have 777SF delivered by 2024, be expanding internationally, and have big plans as well.”
Hence, it remains to be seen whether WestJet Cargo will be able to capture a significant share of the Canadian air freight market in the face of such stiff competition.
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