WestJet Dream(liner)s Big: 787-9 order announced

WestJet to purchase Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners (CNW Group/WestJet)

WestJet wants to be big in long-haul. The carrier announced a firm order today for ten (10) Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft and options for ten more. Currently WestJet flies long-haul with four 767s, serving Hawaii and London. Growing the long-haul fleet brings many more potential destinations into play, including Asia, South America and more European cities. Deliveries will stretch over a three year period beginning in Q1 2019 and the aircraft will carry the GEnx-1B engine from General Electric.

The current WestJet fleet of just over 150 aircraft operates a mix of routes, many seasonal and many focused on leisure markets. Additional wide-body aircraft will allow that seasonal/targeted growth pattern to reach across oceans rather than remain in North America & the Caribbean. Expect less than daily and seasonal service to a wide variety of destinations as the fleet comes online.

Details on the interior configuration are not yet available but assuming 9-abreast in economy and a relatively dense “premium” cabin selling as a Premium economy product rather than business class is prudent given the current 767 configuration. That layout is a vestige of the prior owner, Qantas, and one that Westjet described as temporary so things could change. But the carrier has shied away from a true premium product throughout its operational history and there are competitive forces that likely encourage a similar offering today.

UPDATE: Or maybe an actual premium cabin. That would be interesting.

The man driving the decisions on which airports will be served is no stranger to such growth. Brian Znotis serves as the airline’s VP for Network, Alliances & Corporate Development and has a 20+ year history in airline network planning. Znotis moved back to Canada in late 2016 after 17 years with Continental Airlines and United Airlines, eventually rising to VP Network at the Chicago-based carrier. He was the driving force behind much of the long-haul expansion for United and now appears set to bring a similar plan at WestJet.

Znotis has more than just his United history to draw on in planning this growth. Norwegian rapidly built a long-haul network based on 787s focused on the leisure traveler segment, mostly in transatlantic markets. Some of that traffic is fed from the short-haul operations but a significant amount is stand-alone. WestJet has the ability to build a similar operation in Canada. Norwegian does not currently fly to Canada but the long-haul competition is likely bad news for Air Canada and its Rouge low-cost operation. Rouge currently flies 22 767s to mostly leisure destinations across the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.

This is the second major announcement for WestJet in recent weeks. The carrier also indicated it will launch a ultra low-cost arm by the end of 2017 using some of the existing 737 fleet. Expect “much lower fares with a completely unbundled product offering and increased seat density” on those flights per the company’s statement. There are plenty of questions around what is left to unbundle with the WestJet product, particularly in the short-haul markets, but it is coming soon.

The new order also adjusts short-haul growth plans for the carrier. WestJet previously expected to take 15 737MAX aircraft between 2019-2021. These firm orders are now converted to options available between 2022-2024. With an average 737 fleet age of just over 8 years this delay should not have a material impact on the overall performance of that fleet, though it obviously means a shift in growth focus from the regional flights to destinations further afield.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. While I wouldn’t call WestJet a LCC any more this is a big boost to their long-term growth. Hope the introduction of a new model goes better than when they took over some aging QANTAS 767’s in late 2015 and early 2016 and had massive cancellations and delays at LGW.

    1. Canadian – any Canadian airline over one based in another country.
      The article is referring to the expansion of the Canadian airline, WestJet.
      My comment about timing refers to the negative implications of connecting in America or flying any American airline following both hostile trade penalties initiated on Canadian goods, last month and increased difficulty at US points of entry.

      1. @Sean: I was confused for a moment there as well, given that there are still some of us who would enjoy flying the old Canadi>n Airlines again.

    2. Sean M Ulvihill Within Canada, we don’t have any other choice but to fly with a Canadian carrier. Internationally and trans-border (US) there are more choices.

    3. Howard Slutsken, you missed my point about national loyalty. I don’t think WestJet’s expansion of 20 Boeing 787s is strictly for domestic routes.

    4. It won’t be for domestic at all, I’d bet. Maybe a positioning flight every now and then but expect these birds to be crossing oceans, not the Prairie.

    5. Sean M Ulvihill Seth Miller You’re both correct. It’s unlikely that we’ll see the 787s on many domestic routes, other than to increase capacity between, say, YYZ and YVR, before the 787 heads to HKG or other international destinations.

  2. My guess is that the interior will be pretty much equal to Norwegian’s set-up. 2x3x2 between doors 1 and 2 and then pretty tight all the way to the back.

    Sure hate to be Air Transat today.

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