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WestJet wins coveted LaGuardia slots in New York City

WestJet hasn’t offered flights between Toronto and the New York area since 2005, when it withdrew from LaGuardia after less than a year of service.

© Todd Korol / Reuters/Todd Korol/Reuters

WestJet Airlines Ltd. is spreading the news that it's returning to New York's LaGuardia Airport, raising the carrier's profile in the East.

Emerging as a winner in an auction for flight slots, WestJet will be launching service between Toronto and LaGuardia, with details on a start date and daily flight schedule to be announced later.

"We are very pleased with our successful bid," WestJet chief executive officer Gregg Saretsky said in a statement Wednesday. "Our growth plans, in which increased business travel in the East figures prominently, includes New York City, Canada's largest international business market, and we look forward to providing our guests with frequent, year-round service to the core of the Big Apple."

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Calgary-based WestJet won eight "slot pairs" at LaGuardia, or the right to operate eight round-trips daily. WestJet's victory at LaGuardia is part of its U.S. expansion strategy and efforts to attract more corporate travellers. Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey is already on WestJet's route map.

WestJet offers seasonal Calgary-Newark service, from late April to late October. But WestJet hasn't offered flights between Toronto and the New York area since 2005, when it withdrew from LaGuardia after less than a year of service.

The carrier also had Washington's Reagan National Airport in its sights, but its main interest was in LaGuardia.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's auction, triggered by a swap of slots by Delta Air Lines, Inc. and US Airways Inc., prompted WestJet and six U.S. carriers to bid.

"It's a coup for WestJet. It boosts their efforts to increase the penetration of the Central Canadian corporate marketplace," said Robert Kokonis, president of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc.

There were two packages for LaGuardia and one for Reagan, each with eight bundles of takeoff and landing slots, WestJet said, adding that it plans to finalize the deal for its New York package by the end of November. WestJet is slated to pay a total of $17.6-million for its eight daily slot pairs, according to bidding data.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Mr. Saretsky said. "LaGuardia Airport is slot controlled and therefore access is otherwise strictly limited. Our ability to now serve New York demonstrates we are focused on delivering on our business traveller strategy."

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WestJet, whose eastern hub is based at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, has been battling Air Canada and Porter Airlines Inc. for passengers in Central Canada and the U.S. Northeast. Porter, which serves Newark from Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, expects to add Washington Dulles International Airport to its list of U.S. destinations next year.

Porter is hoping that U.S. customs preclearance facilities will be added at Billy Bishop by early 2013 because such screening is required to gain access to LaGuardia and Reagan.

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