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Airport CEO hopes Sunwing merger could lead to return of WestJet

Earlier this month, the Canadian government approved the merger of Sunwing and WestJet airlines
Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corp. Facebook photo

Now that an airline routinely flying out of Sault Ste. Marie has been approved to merge with WestJet Airlines, Sault Ste. Marie Airport CEO Terry Bos said he hopes it could restart a conversation to have that Calgary-based carrier return to the Sault.

“I don’t think it’s any secret we have been trying to get WestJet to come back to the Sault," said Bos by telephone on Tuesday. 

Last year, WestJet and Sunwing Airlines announced the two companies were seeking approval to merge, a proposal that was rubber stamped earlier this month by the federal government, with conditions. The deal will see WestJet acquire Sunwing's operation, including the current flights it makes out of Sault Ste. Marie to Cuba.

Bos said years ago WestJet conducted a pilot project to fly out of Sault Ste. Marie Airport, but at the time the company was using large 737-class aircraft.

"When we tried it here for 15 months it wasn’t going to work because we simply don’t have enough bums [in the seats] travelling in order to fill up that plane," said Bos.

More recently, the airline's Encore service began using smaller Q400 aircraft — similar to what is flown by Porter Airlines — which Bos said could make more sense on a possible Sault to Winnipeg flight.

Bos said if WestJet decided to make a return to the Sault it would likely be to a hub, like Toronto or Winnipeg.

“In this day and age the major airlines prefer to do point-to-point, feed everything into one of the hubs," he said. “We have always thought we could at least tie in as far as Winnipeg and go from there."

Bos said Porter is doing a great job serving the east coast.

“We were looking for that link to the west and thought that WestJet Encore might provide that," said Bos. “Sunwing being a part of WestJet certainly gives us the opportunity to talk to them on more occasions and continue to remind them we would like to see their service return to Sault Ste. Marie, for sure."

All Porter flights to and from the Sault connect with Toronto. Even if a passenger is flying west to Calgary or Vancouver on a Porter flight they must first fly east from the Sault to Toronto. 

Bos said it's unlikely Porter or WestJet would offer a flight that leaves Toronto, picks up passengers in Sault Ste. Marie and continues to destinations west.

“In the old days they used to call that a milk run. I don’t see that being a milk run type of situation, I don’t think the airlines have any plans to go back into that," said Bos.

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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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