Monday, May 27, 2024
WestJet Cargo enters exciting period of development

WestJet Cargo enters exciting period of development

WestJet, a Canadian carrier betting on a profitable cargo market, is hoping for a successful 2023 in its cargo operations. Having finally cleared a delayed regulatory approval process, the airline has confirmed the launch date for its four dedicated Boeing 737-800 freighters.

Entering the new year, Kirsten De Bruijn, the Executive Vice President of Cargo at WestJet, is clear that the airline’s cargo division is set to “enter a very promising and exciting period in its development,” with the new fleet allowing it to meet the rising demand of the Canadian market more than ever before.

New Arrivals
The freighters aren’t the only new arrivals at the airline. De Bruijn herself was only appointed as WestJet’s Executive Vice President of Cargo back in April, bringing more than 15 years of experience across the industry to the Canadian carrier. This was particularly beneficial for WestJet at a time when it needed someone to step in and effectively launch a freighter airline from scratch.

“If you make a strategic decision to invest in air cargo, then you need the team to get that off the ground,” De Bruijn explained. “We had our new ops manager starting last year and we have more recruits to come in. We’re getting new people in to really invest in cargo.”
“A decision was made that we needed to go into freighter operations, so I came to WestJet,” De Bruijn said. “I found myself learning a lot more than I ever anticipated because in a passenger organisation that has been passenger-only for 25 years, they don’t know about cargo. So, you find yourself discussing the height of a pallet and what you can build.”
Ripe Canadian Market

Canada’s cargo market has been growing in recent years, with 2021 seeing total revenues of $1.5 billion – a compound annual growth rate of 2.7% since 2016. With other carriers turning their focus to cargo operations, the market is becoming increasingly competitive, reflecting the significant potential that it has. WestJet Cargo is among those looking to position themselves as one of the key beneficiaries of the thriving airfreight industry in the country.

“The Canadian market is completely different than the global airfreight industry,” De Bruijn explained. “It’s not just the freight forwarder. It’s direct shippers, it’s people who need to transport their pets, just moving their stuff. I mean, Canada is twice the size of the European Union, so we need airfreight in order to move anything from A to B.”

“Obviously e-commerce is a big part of the commodities that are shipped across Canada. The same-day product, which obviously is quite popular, is very difficult to offer via passenger bellies because you can always have offloads due to load factor or baggage. So, having that freighter fixed capacity is a supper winning business asset that the market needs,” De Bruijn highlighted.

Read more: WestJet Cargo is ready for take-off in 2023

Avoiding challenges
As with all parts of the airfreight industry, WestJet Cargo is not immune from experiencing issues due to supply chain challenges. Disruptions at any stage of the complete supply chain can have a knock-on effect that cause problems for everyone from the company shipping the product to the airline moving it. However, Canadian carriers have an added problem due to the weather conditions in the country, which can wreak havoc on an airport forcing WestJet Cargo and De Bruijn to work out how to operate in such an environment.

Above all of that though, WestJet Cargo’s biggest issue has been simply getting its aircraft cleared to fly by the regulatory authority. While WestJet Cargo welcomed the arrival of its 737-8 Boeing converted freighters in 2022, they were not a registered aircraft type in Canada, so the carrier had to wait for authorisation before the planes could get off the ground.

Now that barrier has been cleared, the airline has set a launch date for its freighters of 26th March 2023, finally allowing WestJet Cargo to massively increase its operations and meet the growing demand of the Canadian market.

Innovation offers opportunity
WestJet Cargo isn’t just looking at the launch of its freighter operation, it’s got an eye to the future, looking at the opportunities provided by digitalisation and sustainable operations.

As an airline, WestJet’s cargo division is currently working on its roadmap but De Bruijn was clear that sustainability is a focus for them, with more detailed plans set to be unveiled in the near future. However, De Bruijn explained that both the passenger and cargo operations will seek to ensure they embrace green opportunities when they are presented.

With regards to digitalisation, WestJet welcomed a new Chief Digital Officer back in August 2022, reflecting how technological innovation is playing a role in the company’s development. “We are coming over to a new system by the end of the year to improve the self-service capability of our cargo operations,” De Bruijn stated. However, she was quick to explain that the airline will continue to provide in-person operations, rather than moving to an all-digital system, allowing people who desire to use traditional booking methods to continue to do so.

Read more: WestJet Cargo confirms the launch of four Boeing 737-800 freighters

2023 goals
As mentioned, 2023 is an exciting year for WestJet Cargo as it truly begins the next chapter in its journey with its four freighters taking to the skies. While there are clear goals the company hopes to achieve over the next 12 months, De Bruijn’s first and foremost one is for WestJet Cargo to remain focused on starting with a safe and secure operation. “That’s why we hired Bharat Bhatia, our new Head of Operations, so we have an end-to-end seamless operation.”

Looking further ahead, the airline’s ambitions are clear: introducing digitalisation where it is beneficial, getting the freighters in the air and creating a very reliable product offering for the Canadian market to capitalise on growing demand in the region.

“We’re heavily investing in human capital and really making sure our product offering is clear in terms of quality. I think that is one of the winning business assets that we need to focus on.”

Picture of Edward Hardy

Edward Hardy

Having become a journalist after university, Edward Hardy has been a reporter and editor at some of the world's leading publications and news sites. In 2022, he became Air Cargo Week's Editor. Got news to share? Contact me on Edward.Hardy@AirCargoWeek.com

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