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Canadian airlines report rise in load factor

Calgary-based WestJet reported a load factor of 86.2 per cent for April, up from 83.6 a year ago.

Todd Korol / Reuters/Todd Korol / Reuters

Flights at Canada's major airlines took off with fewer empty seats in April than a year ago as Air Canada, Porter and WestJet reported improved operations Thursday.

Calgary-based WestJet Airlines reported a load factor of 86.2 per cent for April, up from 83.6 a year ago, while Air Canada improved to 83 per cent from 81.9 per cent.

"We are very happy with this new record load factor for April, which is 2.2 points above the previous high of 84 per cent in April 2010," WestJet president and chief executive Gregg Saretsky said in a statement.

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"The demand environment remains strong and we are optimistic that this positive momentum will continue throughout 2012."

The improvement came as WestJet saw its capacity, measured as available seat miles, increase by 5 per cent and traffic grow by 8.2 per cent.

At Air Canada, capacity shrank by 0.3 per cent, while traffic increased by 1 per cent.

Its president and chief executive Calin Rovinescu said traffic at the Montreal-based airline grew by 3.3 per cent in Canada and 5.1 per cent in its Pacific markets.

"These gains were achieved despite a reduction in capacity of 0.3 per cent as a result of disruption to operations caused by job action by a number of unionized employees and the rescheduling of maintenance activities following the sudden closure by Aveos of its facilities," Mr. Rovinescu said.

"We are focused on maintaining the loyalty and confidence of our customers, and I would like to thank those employees who worked doubly hard during the month to get our customers to their destination safely."

Air Canada has been plagued by labour problems including a bitter contract feud with its pilots and mechanics. The airline was forced to cancel scores of flights last month after dozens of pilots called in sick in what was declared an illegal strike.

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Meanwhile, regional airline Porter Airlines reported an April load factor of 62.1 per cent, up from 54.1 per cent a year ago.

Available Seat Miles increased 22.4 per cent, while revenue passenger miles increased 40.5 per cent.

"Our recent launch in Washington received the highest advance sales of any of our U.S. destinations, contributing to our strong April load factor," Porter president and chief executive Robert Deluce said.

Earlier this week, WestJet announced plans to buy up to 45 of the Bombardier Q400 Next Generation planes over the next six years that will be used for a new regional service it expects to launch next year.

The Q400, which is already in service with other airlines in Canada and abroad, will be used to bolster WestJet's presence in some communities and add destinations that the airline currently doesn't reach.

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