WestJet November traffic grows, but load factor dips on higher capacity - InfoNews

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WestJet November traffic grows, but load factor dips on higher capacity

December 04, 2013 - 1:16 PM

WestJet Airlines signalled that the travel market remains strong, even though its November load factor fell from last year's record as its overall capacity grew faster than passenger traffic.

The Calgary-based airline's planes flew 79.7 per cent full in the month, down 2.9 points from the same month last year, but up from 79.2 per cent in October.

Traffic measured in revenue passenger miles increased 5.7 per cent, on a 9.4-per-cent increase in capacity. The carrier flew 1.4 million passengers, up 3.8 per cent from the prior year.

"We are very pleased with the achievement of our second-highest November load factor, two percentage points better than our third highest, as our strong traffic growth continued in the month," said president and CEO Gregg Saretsky.

WestJet's Encore regional service has added Terrace, B.C., to its growing list of destinations. It plans to launch Encore in Toronto next summer.

The airline (TSX:WJA) expects its capacity — as measured by available seat miles — will grow by seven per cent in December, eight per cent in the fourth quarter and 8.5 per cent for the full year.

In 2014, system-wide capacity is expected to grow by four to six per cent, with WestJet Encore representing about half that growth.

Despite the lower load factor, which measures the percentage of its planes filled with paying passengers, analysts said the robust November traffic numbers point to a continued healthy market.

"New capacity is clearly stimulating new demand, in particular on the domestic front as WestJet rolls out their new regional low cost subsidiary, Encore," said Walter Spracklin of RBC Capital Markets.

"The key here is that while system-wide load factor compressed for the month, it remains healthy at levels close to 80 per cent and was on the back of a firmer pricing environment."

Chris Murray of Alta Corp Capital says he expects higher fares and ancillary revenues will offset the lower load factor, which "we believe is indicative of a healthy and rational marketplace."

David Tyerman of Canaccord Genuity said the lower load factor could feed investor anxiety that WestJet is trying to add too much capacity into the market.

"We think the results are better than the headlines suggest," he said.

Tyerman expects WestJet has good earnings growth potential from the launch of premium economy seating that should add about $80 million in annual revenues. He also pointed to WestJet Encore, that should add 50 cents per share in earnings by 2018, U.S. and international growth and the benefits from cutting $100 million of costs.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, WestJet's shares gained four cents at $28.15 in Wednesday afternoon trading.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2013
The Canadian Press

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