WestJet pitch made, wait begins

Team returns from Calgary after speaking up for West Kootenay

Much has been made of WestJet’s proposed inauguration of regional service across the country, and the West Kootenay’s keen interest in being included.

A local contingent including Mayors Lawrence Chernoff (Castlegar), John Dooley (Nelson), City of Castlegar CAO John Malcolm and former Conservative MP Jim Gouk were part of a recent effort to plead the West Kootenay case in Calgary.

The local spiel was sweetened by an offer of more than $300,000 by the City of Castlegar. The money would go toward navigational software which would allow WestJet turboprop aircraft to make a lower and more efficient approach the West Kootenay Regional Airport than what is considered safe practice with current flights.

Mayor Chernoff indicated on Friday the money is available and that taxpayers would not be on the hook for it.

About 30 communities from across the country had a chance this past week to impress WestJet officials… each had a 25- minute session in which to do it.

“There were people from Vancouver Island,” said Chernoff, “Gander, Newfoundland and everywhere in between.”

Not surprisingly, WestJet is keeping its opinions on the presentations to itself. Media specialist Robert Palmer, however, did express gratitude on June 29 to everyone who had made the trip.

“I’m not going to comment on any particular community,” said Palmer, “because there were more than 30 here this week and it just wouldn’t be fair to all of them. I will give a great big huge WestJet thank-you to Castlegar for coming out. I know our network and planning people were impressed with all of the communities.”

No official number is being released by the airline in regard to successful communities, although Palmer did indicate the initial launch “would likely be a handful.”

It is known that WestJet is moving ahead with a plan to eventually purchase 45 Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft to deploy in its new regional service.

As for the planes themselves, Palmer said Bombardier had supplied an example of the aircraft for community reps to tour. Company reps were on hand to field the many questions about the state-of-the-art unit.

Mayor Chernoff has been expectedly upbeat on the idea of attracting the successful carrier and was every bit as positive upon his return. He stressed the point of view that a WestJet arrival should in no way signify the desire for an Air Canada departure. He expressed the opinion that there is room for both carriers and that healthy competition is a good thing.

He thanked everyone who had hopped on the bandwagon.

“The support in the community for our proposal was overwhelming,” he said. “We were seeing letters from everybody… business, small and large, communities from villages to cities and towns… the whole West Kootenay.”

Robert Palmer suggested late 2012 or early 2013 as a time when the results of WestJet’s decisions would be made public. Mayor Chernoff, however, feels it could be sooner.

“I think they’re probably going to short list within a couple of months,” he concluded, “from our understanding.”