June 22nd, 2024

WestJet touches down

By Collin Gallant on June 23, 2018.

A WestJet Link flight arrives Friday morning for the new service's initial landing in Medicine Hat. The regional carrier, operated by Pacific Coast Airlines, offers several flights each day from smaller cities in Alberta and British Columbia to Calgary.--NEWS PHOTO COLLIN GALLANT


cgallant@medicinehatnews.com
@CollinGallant

The wheels are down on the eight-year-old goal of luring another major air carrier to the Medicine Hat Regional Airport.

WestJet Link, a regional carrier of the Calgary-based airline, made its first arrival in the Gas City at about 11:15 a.m., greeted by dignitaries and a public celebration that drew 200 Hatters to the tarmac of the city-owned facility.

“It’s just a sense of relief,” said airport general manager Jeff Huntus, who mingled among the crowd as 34 passengers disembarked from the Saab 340b aircraft that will make three trips daily to and from Calgary.

“It’s been a long time in the making and the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people in this city. It’s a proud day for a lot of people, and best of all it’s about the community.”

Dignitaries at the official ribbon-cutting also said the landing and service going forward were the result of hard work.

“It’s getting on your hands and knees and begging for them to come and take a look,” said Mayor Ted Clugston. He was an alderman in 2012 when the city first hired consultants to help lobby WestJet and other airlines to set up in Medicine Hat.

Since then the terminal has been expanded, the apron and baggage handling facilities upgraded and a complete runway repaving was completed just last month thanks to a $12-million federal grant.

Business groups and travellers also wrote letters and completed a survey about how often they drive to other airports to meet flights.

“Those are their potential customers,” said Clugston. “You ask and ask and ask, and they said ‘yes.'”

Robert Palmer, public affairs manager for the airline, attended Friday’s ceremony.

“The people in Medicine Hat have been looking for WestJet flights for a long time — we know that,” said Palmer. “They’ve been passionate about it and very patient.

“Up until now, we haven’t had the right size of aircraft … This partnership gives large airlines access to smaller aircraft, and allows us to bring service to small- and medium-sized airports like Medicine Hat.”

The service is contracted to Pacific Coastal Airlines, which will operate 34-seaters with WestJet service levels, and also opened in Cranbrook and Prince George this week, as well as Lethbridge and Lloydminster. The service hubs at Calgary International Airport, where WestJet hopes customers will make connections to WestJet flights elsewhere in the country and internationally.

For years, local travellers have complained about the cost of travelling to meet flights in Calgary by air versus the three-hour drive and long-term parking at Calgary International.

“We hope people will be leaving those cars at home,” said Palmer during his prepared remarks.

That resonated in the ticket line on Friday morning.

Dale Brown of Redcliff said he didn’t realize he’d be on the first flight out when he booked this week’s trip to visit his son in Vancouver.

“I think we’ll use it all the time,” said Brown, who is now considering the service to connect with an early morning flight to Ireland next fall.

“It’s really handy, and it’ll beat driving to Calgary and overnighting it in a hotel.”

During the ceremony, Chamber of Commerce vice president Sarah McKenzie said air travel options will allow businesses greater ability to locate in Medicine Hat and for local business people to cater to markets outside of the region.

Among the crowd was Jace Anderson of the Tourism Destination Marketing Organization, who said the industry is preparing to take advantage of the new service.

“It’s exciting for every pillar of the tourism industry,” he said. “Everybody, going in and out, will benefit from increased access.”

Both local MLAs, Drew Barnes and Bob Wanner, said the day wouldn’t have happened without foresight of local government to put taxpayer funds into the facility.

Both also said it will help broadcast opportunities that are plentiful in the region.

Wanner said positive economic news was just the beginning of what can be accomplished in southeast Alberta.

Barnes called it a great partnership of “two strong Western Canadian companies.”

Laura Nadin-Young of Pacific Coastal Airlines said the B.C.-based carrier is one of the largest mid-sized operators in that province and customers will receive excellent service.

“It’s a very exciting time.”

The company has six local employees, said Nadin-Young, not including a contract with another company for baggage handling.

Earlier this month city officials said the added service, take-offs and landings, and lease revenue could fully erase an annual $300,000 operating shortfall at the facility, thereby making it self sufficient.

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