Westjet makes bold move into cargo market

Westjet follows Air Canada introducing dedicated cargo aircraft to the fleet

Westjet cargo
An artist’s rendering of Westjet’s forthcoming Boeing 737-800NG cargo aircraft (Westjet).

Sensing a long-term shift in consumer habits, Westjet said Wednesday it will make a big move into the cargo market. But it will do it using some of the smallest freighters aircraft in the country.

“WestJet Cargo will enhance economic benefits through competitive product for shippers,” said Westjet Cargo Vice President Charles Duncan. “Dedicated, cost efficient and nimble narrow body freighters will make WestJet Cargo a dynamic and strong competitor.”

Westjet plans to start all-cargo flights in 2022. The airline already offers limited cargo operations in the bellies of its aircraft. But space in the hold of the 737 is limited to bulk items. And the airline offers only a small number of flights on larger Boeing 787 Dreamliners that can handle larger and more complex cargo shipments.

With the pandemic, the number of passenger flights has fallen dramatically across the country. In normal times, shippers would use space in the bellies of aircraft to ship items. But the decrease in flights means shippers are left with fewer – and more expensive – options.

Growth in cargo

A chart showing airline revenues and expenses in 2020 (Statistics Canada).

Cargo was one of the few growth areas through 2020. Overall, revenues fell 61.5% last year from the highs of 2019, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday. Airlines flew 73% fewer passenger-kilometres, a key airline metric.

But in the cargo sector, everything looked up. At Cargojet – which operates a fleet of ATRs, 757s, and 767s with more to come – revenues jumped 37% between 2019 and 2020 as consumers switched to online shopping.

Westjet follows Air Canada into the cargo market. Air Canada is converting two retired Boeing 767s to cargo use to start. The airline is planning to launch service in October, with flights generally focussed on Toronto. The first routes will link Toronto with Miami, Quito, Lima, Mexico City and Guadalajara. The airline plans to expand service to Halifax, St. John’s, Madrid, and  Frankfurt as the fleet expands.

“Our new dedicated commercial cargo aircraft are a natural evolution of the competitive guest services WestJet has successfully provided over our 25-year history,” said Duncan.

Westjet will use a fleet of Boeing 737-800BCFs. These are converted passenger-to-cargo aircraft, presumably from the airline’s current fleet. The plane will have a maximum payload of 24,000 kg and a range of almost 4,800 km. The company has not released route details, though presumably, the operation will be based in Calgary, where Westjet operates its only in-house major airport freight operation.

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Categories: Westjet