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Old March 26th, 2009, 08:56 AM   #841
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WestJet forecasts significant market share gains

TORONTO, March 24 (Reuters) - WestJet Airlines Ltd said on Tuesday it expects to achieve significant growth in market share over the medium to long term, despite what is anticipated to be a difficult 2009.

A strong cash balance and low debt leave the company well positioned to take advantage of growth opportunities in the current weak environment, as was the case last year, Vito Culmone, WestJet's chief financial officer, told analysts at a conference in Toronto.

"We are one of only three airlines ... that made any money in 2008," Culmone said, while acknowledging this year would be much tougher.

Canada's No. 2 airline projects its capacity to grow by just 6 percent to 7 percent in the first quarter and by a maximum of 5 percent for all of 2009. In 2008, WestJet's capacity ballooned by nearly 18 percent.

Culmone said that the low ticket prices currently dominating the market were a problem, but lower fuel prices would provide "significant relief from a margin perspective."

The company's fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft currently numbers 78. It will grow to 85 by the end of the year, and to 121 through 2013, adding to market share and revenues, Culmone said.

The airline owns two-thirds of its fleet, and leases the other third, which it says gives it considerable flexibility, he said.

The company expects to boost its share of the C$5 billion ($4.1 billion) domestic market to 40 to 45 percent by 2013 from around 36 to 37 percent at present, Culmone said.

On flights to the United States, it plans to increase its market share to around 20 percent by 2013 from 11 percent.

Culmone said significant contributors to WestJet's growth would come from its WestJet Vacations unit, flexibility in where and when it deploys its aircraft, and partnerships with other airlines such SouthWest Airlines Co .

Looking to flights to Mexico and the Caribbean, markets the company entered only in 2006, WestJet said it expects its share to increase to between 15 and 20 percent by 2013 from about 11 percent now.

"We see in Mexico and the Caribbean easily 10 additional scheduled destinations that we can see ourselves growing into by 2013," said Culmone.

WestJet said it has over C$800 million in unrestricted cash on hand and an adjusted debt to equity ratio of 1.78.
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Old March 31st, 2009, 08:06 PM   #842
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Air Canada shakeup might signal turbulence ahead: analysts
31 March 2009
Canwest News Service

TORONTO - The sudden shakeup at the top of Air Canada is not expected to significantly increase the airline's chances of survival and might even signal the airline is headed for another round of bankruptcy restructuring, observers say.

Air Canada's president and chief executive Montie Brewer made the surprise announcement late Monday that he was resigning his position at the airline as of April 1. He will be replaced by Calin Rovinescu, a former senior executive at the airline who helped orchestrate its defence against a hostile takeover led by Onex Corp. in 1999 and helped guide it through its previous bankruptcy restructuring six years ago.

Air Canada has once again found itself in perilous times. The current economic downturn is reducing its sales at a time when its debt and pension obligations are mounting, which has put its cash flows under greater scrutiny and even raised the possibility of the airline heading for another bankruptcy, according to several industry analysts.

Karl Moore, McGill University business professor, called the change at the top a "horses for courses" decision. While Brewer has served as a good CEO in better times, introducing its successful ``a la carte'' revenue model, now that the airline is in a difficult position, the board clearly has decided to bring in a CEO for bad times, he said.

"It's matter of who's the right CEO for today's economy, and clearly the board thought Calin was their person," Moore said. "He is, other than Robert Milton (CEOof parent company ACE and former CEOof Air Canada), the most experienced executive in the world at leading Air Canada through difficult times. . . . And it's saying we're back in those times."

The airline only had about $1 billion available free cash at the end of 2008, and will have $660 million in debt maturing, $120-million in capital expenditures, and about $475 million in pension obligations coming due this year. With demand for air travel dwindling in the current downturn, Ben Cherniavsky, a Raymond James analyst, has given the airline a 50/50 chance "at best" of surviving its current troubles - even with Rovinescu at the helm.

"He is not a traditional airline guy, which we think works to Air Canada's advantage given its current challenges," he said. "Still, suddenly and dramatically bringing in someone like Mr. Rovinescu and (presumably) forcing out Montie Brewer speaks to the extreme turmoil currently taking place at Air Canada."

Cherniavsky said he does not believe this change will "materially increase the odds" of Air Canada getting through its current troubles, and may even run the risk of exacerbating what is shaping up to be a difficult round of labour talks this summer with its unions. Rovinescu was part of the team that guided Air Canada through its previous restructuring and helped develop the structure of ACE Aviation Holdings Inc., under which the airline's various subsidiaries - Aeroplan, Jazz Air Income Fund and ACTS - have been spun off and more than $2- billion returned to ACE's shareholders.

ACE still owns 75 per cent of Air Canada and the so-called "Milton money" has become a major point of contention with Air Canada's unions, which gave up more than $1 billion in wage and benefit concessions during the previous round of labour talks that took place while the airline was under creditor protection.

"As a senior executive of the old Air Canada (and part of Milton's inner circle), Mr. Rovinescu will not appear as a (much needed) fresh face to the airline's embattled labour unions," Cherniavsky said.

Rovinescu, a lawyer by trade, joined Air Canada in 2000, serving as its vice- president of corporate development and strategy. Prior to that he was managing partner at Stikeman, Elliott LLP. He left Air Canada in 2004 and co-founded Genuity Capital Markets.

Air Canada had no comment on speculation of a possible bankruptcy filing. Neither Rovinescu nor Brewer were available for comment.
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Old April 1st, 2009, 05:45 PM   #843
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Air Canada stock sinks as restructuring weighed

CALGARY, Alberta, March 31 (Reuters) - Air Canada shares sank 22 percent on Tuesday as analysts speculated that the resignation of its CEO, and the naming of a replacement known for his restructuring expertise, may signal the airline's second filing for creditor protection in six years.

Montie Brewer, who has led the airline through the industry downturn and has had to scramble to raise cash while competing with rival WestJet Airlines Ltd , will be replaced as chief executive on Wednesday by Calin Rovinescu, a key figure in Air Canada's last corporate revamp under bankruptcy protection.

Air Canada's class B shares fell 26 Canadian cents to 89 Canadian cents on the Toronto Stock Exchange, representing a drop of more than 90 percent in the past year. Its class A shares fell 24 Canadian cents to 84 Canadian cents.

Rovinescu is a lawyer who was Air Canada's vice-president of corporate development and strategy from 2000 to 2004, a period that included the airline's last restructuring and emergence from creditor protection. He subsequently co-founded Genuity Capital Markets, a Canadian investment bank.

"While the challenges in front of us are large, we will continue to build upon the successes of the airline to date and deliver a quality product for our customers, employees and shareholders," Rovinescu said in a statement.

There were more changes in the executive suite on Tuesday, as Chief Operating Officer Bill Bredt announced he too is stepping down, to be replaced by Duncan Dee.

Air Canada shares have tumbled as the industry downturn that first took hold in the United States spilled into Canada.

The airline has cut capacity by 7 percent, which meant 2,000 layoffs, and has been feverishly working to raise capital to shore up its balance sheet.

It also faces a pension deficit and brisk competition on fares and routes from Calgary-based WestJet.

Analyst Jacques Kavafian said Rovinescu's appointment signals another restructuring because of his legal experience and his unpopularity with the carrier's unions.

"In fact, we believe that his resignation from Air Canada in 2004 was a condition for union acceptance of wage concessions," Kavafian said in a note. "Bringing him on just as new labor agreements are to be negotiated does not square with the unions' historical sentiments."

Kavafian also took note that Rovinescu will take up his post six years to the day after Air Canada last filed for creditor protection.

Airline spokeswoman Angela Mah declined to comment on what might be in the cards for Air Canada, beyond what was in the statement issued late on Monday.

It made no mention of plans to seek creditor protection.

"Suddenly and dramatically, bringing in someone like Mr. Rovinescu ... speaks to the extreme turmoil currently taking place at Air Canada," Ben Cherniavsky, an analyst at Raymond James, wrote in a research note.

Cherniavsky has pegged the chances of Air Canada's survival at "50/50, at best."

Transport Minister John Baird said he is concerned with the mounting financial problems at the flagship carrier.

"So it has my active attention," Baird told reporters in Ottawa. "I met with one of the unions this morning. I was in touch with management last evening, and we'll be watching the issue very closely."

The Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents more than 5,000 Air Canada employees, called Rovinescu's re-entry into the airline "disturbing."

The union said it feared its members would be threatened with cuts to pension benefits under another restructuring effort. It had opposed parent company ACE Aviation Holdings Inc's sale in recent years of Air Canada's affiliates, such as its frequent flier program and regional feeder carrier.

($1=$1.26 Canadian)
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Old April 8th, 2009, 11:56 AM   #844
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Jazz Air's future seen tied to Air Canada

CALGARY, Alberta, April 3 (Reuters) - Speculation that regional carrier Jazz Air LP will be cut loose by a struggling Air Canada , the country's biggest airline, is unlikely to be on the mark because the two need each other too much, an industry expert said on Friday.

Although Jazz is no longer owned by Air Canada or its parent ACE Aviation Holdings Inc , its only business is providing feeder service to and from Air Canada's main domestic hubs under a capacity service agreement.

"It's a symbiotic relationship, they need each other badly and I just don't see that relationship changing whatsoever," independent airline industry consultant Rick Erickson said.

Uncertainty about the future of Jazz has come to the fore this week as Air Canada's financial problems have prompted a sharp drop in the value of Jazz's trust units.

The units were off 6 Canadian cents at C$2.26 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Friday. That represents a drop of 31 percent from Monday, the day before Air Canada announced it was replacing chief executive Montie Brewer with Calin Rovinescu, a key figure in the airline's last restructuring six years ago.

Analysts have speculated that Air Canada could again seek bankruptcy protection to initiate another major corporate revamp as it wrestles with a weak cash position, a large pension deficit and stiff competition from rival WestJet Airlines Ltd against the backdrop of the recession.

Jacques Kavafian, analyst at Research Capital Corp, has said the airline must make huge cuts to its operations, fleet and route network to save C$2 billion ($1.6 billion) a year.

Among his prescriptions is the cancellation of Jazz's contract with Air Canada, which would be done under protection from creditors.

Air Canada and Jazz renegotiated part of the agreement earlier this year.

"In effect, the capacity purchase agreement between Air Canada and Jazz must go, making Jazz an independent airline able to pursue any growth opportunities that it sees fit to pursue," Kavafian wrote in a report.

However, Jazz, which flies 64 turboprop aircraft and 73 regional jets, is not set up to operate as a stand-alone carrier with its own marketing and reservation network, Erickson said.

"Could Jazz survive on its own? I guess they could go and set up their own distribution system up and all of that kind of stuff and become a full-fledged airline, but their costs are going to go up," said Erickson, who owns Jazz units.

ACE has sold off Jazz, Groupe Aeroplan Inc , which is Air Canada's loyalty program operator, and a stake in maintenance provider Aveos Fleet Performance Inc in recent years as it moved to scrap its holding company structure.

ACE had also planned to distribute its remaining 75 percent stake in Air Canada to shareholders, but that was before stock in both it and Air Canada tumbled as the carrier's financial picture worsened. ACE has postponed a shareholder vote on that move indefinitely.

Another analyst said a restructuring of Air Canada under bankruptcy protection could be positive for Jazz, as its operations may be expanded.

The capacity contract could get renegotiated again, meaning narrower margins for Jazz, Canaccord Adams analyst Tom Varesh wrote in a research note.

But the airlines would get the change to rework scope clauses with the unions, allowing Jazz to take over operations of Air Canada's fleet of new Embraer 170 and 190 jets.

"This would be a positive for Jazz as net/net, we believe it would translate into a level of profitability that would enable Jazz to maintain its current distribution," he wrote.

($1=$1.23 Canadian)
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Old April 8th, 2009, 12:00 PM   #845
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WestJet says planes flew less full in March

CALGARY, Alberta, April 6 (Reuters) - WestJet Airlines Ltd said on Monday its planes flew less full in March as rising capacity outstripped gains in the number of paying passengers.

The company, Canada's No. 2 airline, said its load factor last month, a measure of how well it filled its planes, dropped 4.7 percentage points to 81.9 percent, down from 86.6 percent in March, 2008.

The airline said it garnered 0.6 percent more revenue passenger miles last month, as the measure of passengers flown climbed to 1.25 billion from 1.24 billion.

However the passenger gains were outstripped by rising capacity as WestJet added new aircraft over the 12-month period. The company's capacity, measured in available seat miles, climbed 6.3 percent to 1.52 billion from 1.43 billion.

"In addition to a slowing economy, the March numbers were impacted by Easter falling in April this year versus March last year," Cameron Doerksen, an analyst at Versant Partners, said in a note, reiterating a "buy" rating on the company's shares.

Air Canada , Canada's largest airline, on Friday that its load factor last month fell 1.8 percent to 81.8 percent from the year-prior month, despite big cuts to capacity, as the recession cut revenue passenger miles by 13.1 percent, mostly because of big drops in its U.S. transborder and international traffic.

WestJet, which operates primarily within Canada, said on Monday it expects its first-quarter revenue per available miles, a profitability measure, to down 10 to 12 percent from the same period last year, as the weak economy spurs lower fares.

WestJet shares, down 35 percent over the past 12 months, fell 30 Canadian cents to C$11.95 midmorning on the Toronto Stock Exchange. ($1=$1.24 Canadian)
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Old April 8th, 2009, 06:18 PM   #846
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Air Canada traffic stats weaken in March

CALGARY, Alberta, April 3 (Reuters) - Air Canada said on Friday its load factor and traffic statistics weakened in March even as it slashed capacity, but the airline blamed much of the decline was because its year-ago figures benefited from the high-demand Easter holiday.

Air Canada, which parachuted in a new chief executive and operating officers this week, said its planes flew 81.8 percent full in March, down 1.8 percentage points from a year earlier.

Traffic, measured by revenue passenger miles, totaled 3.555 billion miles, down 13.1 percent, and capacity fell 11.3 percent to 4.345 billion available seat miles.

This year, Easter, when customers take to the skies to spend time with family for a long weekend, falls in April.

Air Canada is dealing with a tight cash position as it weathers the recession and stiff competition from rival WestJet Airlines Ltd . It has been reducing its capacity over the past year to match lower demand.

"We will continue this disciplined approach to capacity management and will make adjustments as necessary to meet peak summer season travel demand," new Chief Executive Calin Rovinescu said in a statement.

Rovinescu took over the top job on Wednesday from Montie Brewer, who had led Canada's biggest airline since 2004. The new CEO was a player in Air Canada's last restructuring six years ago, which has sparked speculation that another corporate overhaul may be in the cards.

Air Canada's regional affiliate, Jazz Air LP , had a hefty 7 percentage point drop in load factor to 69.5 percent in March.

Its traffic totaled 307 million revenue passenger miles, down 17.5 percent, as capacity fell 9.1 percent to 442 available seat miles.
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Old April 15th, 2009, 12:36 PM   #847
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CEO touts ‘creative' Air Canada
15 April 2009
The Globe and Mail

The new head of Air Canada AC.B wants to defend the carrier's domestic market share by building on the Aeroplan rewards program to help fend off WestJet Airlines Ltd.

“Let's not forget the strength of our Aeroplan partnership,” Air Canada president and chief executive officer Calin Rovinescu said in a memo to employees, referring to Groupe Aeroplan Inc., which has been run as a separate company from the airline since 2005. “We can and will also better leverage that important relationship with our most important customers.”

WestJet intends to launch its frequent-flier program by the end of 2009, accompanied by the introduction of loyalty credit cards to compete against CIBC Aerogold Visa and American Express AeroplanPlus cards.

Air Canada has irked Aeroplan members in recent years by scaling back certain aspects of the loyalty program, including a decision in 2007 to halve the number of points that it awards to buyers of discounted Tango fares.

Air Canada and its regional affiliate Jazz held 57 per cent of the domestic market's seat capacity last fall, compared with WestJet's 36 per cent.

Industry analysts estimate that Calgary-based WestJet's unit operating costs, measured in cost per available seat mile, are roughly 30 per cent lower than Air Canada's.

Research Capital Corp. analyst Jacques Kavafian said earlier this month that Air Canada must take drastic action to avoid filing for bankruptcy protection. He said debt-laden Air Canada could chop more than half its routes, mostly flights operated by its Jazz affiliate, and reduce traffic at hubs in Calgary, Montreal and Halifax.

But Mr. Rovinescu, who replaced Montie Brewer in the top job on April 1, said he isn't embarking on a strategy of “shrinking to profitability,” so instead of retrenching, Air Canada intends to weather the recession.

“Fundamentally I believe we cannot cut, shrink and slash our way to profitability. Sometimes difficult economic times do impose tough choices; however, my inclination will be to always look first for ways to be creative,” he wrote in the memo. “This is not an easy task in a situation such as ours. We not only have a global recession that has impacted travel more severely than SARS or 9/11, but we also face a vigorous domestic competitor whose cost structure is significantly lower.”

The Canadian Auto Workers' collective agreement expires at the end of May, while union contracts with flight attendants, mechanics and pilots expire at the end of June.

“I see creative opportunities before us where we can play to our strengths. Among other things, we have a newly refurbished fleet, a far-reaching network anchored by well-positioned hubs, strong international alliance partners to build upon and employees with a solid reputation for professionalism,” said Mr. Rovinescu, reaching out to the unionized work force.

Mr. Rovinescu has appointed Ben Smith, the airline's chief commercial officer, to lead a team to position the carrier for an economic rebound. Mr. Smith is also being asked to locate new revenue sources for routes while reviewing flight frequencies and fare structures in the coming weeks.

Multitrip flight passes are under the microscope because when oil prices surged last summer, Air Canada had to absorb higher fuel costs because it presold discounted passes that were exempt from the additional charges.
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Old April 17th, 2009, 03:33 PM   #848
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Air Canada forges partnership with TAP Portugal
15 April 2009
Canwest News Service

Air Canada announced Wednesday it had forged a new strategic partnership with TAP Portugal, the largest carrier in Portugal.

Under the so-called code-share agreement, the carriers will be able to seamlessly transfer passengers onto each others networks at select Canadian cities, such as Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Ottawa, as well as Porto and Lisbon in Portugal.

It will also allow for TAP to use Air Canada flights in international cities, like Newark, NJ, London, and Madrid, the carriers said.
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Old April 29th, 2009, 12:16 PM   #849
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WestJet, pilots brace for turbulent talks
29 April 2009
The Globe and Mail

TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

Over its 13-year life, WestJet Airlines Ltd. WJA-T billed itself as having motivated staff, touting employees who own shares in the company and making millionaires of veteran pilots. Now, the carrier is clashing with its pilots.

With a three-year contract with pilots expiring tomorrow, the carrier wants to eliminate their fabled stock options and introduce restricted share units as it seeks to forge a new five-year contract with the non-union WestJet Pilots Association, which has 950 members.

WestJet captains could receive units worth $5,149 annually while first officers are eligible for $3,656 a year. When the current contract took effect in 2006, stock options were valued at nearly $41,200 a year for captains and $29,250 a year for first officers.

Management at the airline believes the units are an attractive long-term incentive. “Unlike stock options, which may be forfeited if they are not ‘in the money,' upon vesting of the RSUs, the pilot will receive the shares,” according to WestJet's proposal.

Founded in 1996, WestJet doesn't have a pension plan, but to attract pilots in the early years, it dangled thousands of stock options in front of each of them annually. In 2005, as WestJet introduced the tagline, “Why do WestJetters care so much? Because we're also WestJet owners,” the Calgary-based carrier touted its customer-friendly strategy.

WestJet chief executive officer Sean Durfy would not comment yesterday, but in a recent memo to pilots he said he's concerned about a “selective minority” in the cockpit who may be a drag on contract talks. “I, for one, would hate to see us fall victim to this turmoil,” he wrote.

“I ask those who truly care about who we are – not just as a pilot group but as people who have created an amazing company – to ensure we do not lose what we have worked so hard to achieve.”

Mr. Durfy urged pilots to keep an open mind and “take a look at just about every other airline out there. The news is not good.”

Pilots are the only non-management group at WestJet awarded stock options, but all staff are eligible for the airline's stock-purchase program, which remains intact as one of the most generous in Canada, matching contributions dollar-for-dollar, up to 20 per cent of a worker's gross salary. More than 80 per cent of WestJet's 7,500 employees own shares.

“We are currently at the table negotiating our pilot agreement,” said WestJet Pilots Association president David DeVeaux, who declined further comment.

WestJet management is offering to raise base cash wages for its pilots, with a starting hourly rate of $124.97 for new captains and up to $171.08 an hour for those with more experience. Full-time pilots typically fly 80 hours a month.

Hourly rates are slated to rise 1.25 per cent in 2010, then annual increases of 1.5 per cent, 2.5 per cent and 2.75 per cent.

Under the current contract, hourly rates vary, depending on how much each pilot elects to tie compensation to stock options.

For instance, new captains who participated fully in the stock option program received a base rate of $77.78 an hour in 2006, while those elected to receive one-quarter of their stock option entitlement were paid a higher rate, $109.96 an hour.
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Old May 5th, 2009, 06:32 PM   #850
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Air Canada asks unions for pension deal

TORONTO, May 4 (Reuters) - Air Canada said on Monday it was seeking support from its unions for "a moratorium and other conditions on funding" its pension deficit, which is more than C$3 billion ($2.5 billion).

Canada's biggest airline said the moratorium would allow it to establish financial certainty over the next several years and help it maintain its defined benefit pension plans.

The Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents about 4,500 Air Canada staff, is demanding the airline continue funding the pension plan.

The union said it would present a five-point plan to turn the carrier around at a news conference on Monday. ($1=$1.18 Canadian)
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Old May 6th, 2009, 03:19 PM   #851
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WestJet earnings beat market, cautious on 2nd qtr
5 May 2009

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - WestJet Airlines Ltd posted a smaller than expected drop in quarterly earnings Tuesday and said it expects to emerge stronger than ever from a global slowdown in air travel, sending its shares surging.

Canada's No.2 airline cautioned that the second quarter would remain tough in the face of economic pressures and the possible impact of the H1N1 flu outbreak.

Chief Executive Sean Durfy said the outbreak of the H1N1 virus was "hitting the psyche of the traveling public hard," although it was too early to say how badly this will affect bookings.

"We do believe this is short-term pain over the next couple of quarters and we will recover stronger than we have ever been," Durfy told analysts on a conference call.

WestJet, along with rival Air Canada, recently stopped flights to Mexico, the center of the flu outbreak.

Questioned on market speculation that Air Canada's weak financial position could once again force it into bankruptcy, Durfy was sanguine about the impact on the market.

"What I really believe is if it's (the outcome for Air Canada is) dire ... the Canadian aviation space can handle it... So you will have a bunch of airlines that could certainly step up and provide the capacity to make sure that Canadians get to where they need to go," he told reporters after WestJet's annual meeting in Calgary, Alberta.

He said he is concerned that the Canadian government could step in to help out the previously government-owned carrier -- a move that could hurt industry competition.

EARNINGS TOP ESTIMATES

One of only a few profitable airlines in North America, WestJet's first-quarter earnings fell 28.7 percent to C$37.4 million ($32 million), or 29 Canadian cents a share, as the soft economy trimmed demand and competition led to lower pricing.

Analysts had expected the low-cost, no-frills airline to report earnings of 22.5 Canadian cents a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

"It is certainly encouraging that they can still generate good results in the face of an extremely difficult economic environment," said Cameron Doerksen, aerospace analyst at Versant Partners.

WestJet's stock ended almost 7 percent higher on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Tuesday at C$13.35, its highest in three months.

Durfy said the airline had adjusted its flight schedules to reduce some flying as it took into account current demand.

"This will lower our previously planned second-quarter capacity growth to between 1 and 2 percent," he said.

As part of its effort to cut costs, WestJet had "slowed hiring," Durfy said, but added that there had been no layoffs. Lower oil prices were also helping to keep a lid on costs.

Durfy said talks between the Calgary-based company and its pilots on a new contract are going well. "I believe the relationship between pilots and this corporation has never been stronger," he said.

WestJet ended the first quarter with C$835 million in cash. Chief Financial Officer Vito Culmone said it would hold on to the money until it sees a "sustained economic recovery."

In other first-quarter results, WestJet's revenue decreased 3.3 percent to C$579.3 million.

It added 7.2 percent capacity on an available seat mile basis, while its load factor, or the number of seats filled, fell by 1.5 percentage points to 80.4 percent.

($1=$1.18 Canadian)
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Old May 7th, 2009, 04:30 PM   #852
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WestJet Airlines warns of bumpy quarter

WestJet Airlines warns of bumpy quarter

Fears over spread of flu virus hit travellers' psyche, though carrier reports recent rebound in bookings

May 06, 2009 04:30 AM
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Chris Sorensen
Business Reporter

WestJet Airlines Ltd., which yesterday posted a 29 per cent drop in first-quarter earnings, is planning to trim its growth plans for the rest of the year in the face of a difficult economic environment and fears about the global spread of the H1N1 flu virus.

Sean Durfy, the chief executive of WestJet, warned on a conference call that the next few months would be tough for the airline. He said WestJet will reduce its capacity growth rate to 3 per cent from 5 per cent for the remainder of the year. The cuts will come mostly from the airline's domestic schedule, with fewer red-eye flights and fewer flights on less popular days, Durfy said.

"When it rains, it sure pours doesn't it? The economy isn't showing signs of an upswing and the recent H1N1 flu virus is hitting the psyche of the travelling public hard."

Durfy added, however, that WestJet bookings have rebounded slightly over the past few days as health authorities in Mexico, the epicentre of the flu outbreak, suggested that the number of people being infected may have stabilized in their country.

Like other airlines in Canada, WestJet cancelled flights to destinations in Mexico over the next month because of the outbreak.

WestJet said its first-quarter earnings fell to $37 million, or 29 cents a share, compared to $52 million, or 40 cents, during the year-earlier period.

Profitability was hurt as the weak economy caused fewer people to travel and the industry responded by dropping fares in a bid to keep planes full.

While a 29 per cent drop in earnings would not normally be received as positive news, investors were pleased with the fact that WestJet beat expectations and managed to post its 15th consecutive quarter of industry-leading margins, according to David Newman, an analyst at National Bank Financial.

Calgary-based WestJet's shares rose more than 6 per cent, or 87 cents, to close at $13.35 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

"We remain cautious on the remainder of 2009, despite the drop in fuel prices," said Newman in a note to clients.

"As the potential for a tougher pricing environment in an increasingly weak economic environment, slackening demand, easing capacity growth and Canadian dollar weakness will weigh on its outlook."

Durfy said WestJet should be able to continue growing its share of the market this year, as rival Air Canada is expected to continue to cut back on its domestic flying.

Air Canada, facing a cash crunch, reports first-quarter results Friday.
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Old May 9th, 2009, 07:02 AM   #853
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No big overhaul seen for Air Canada - CEO

OTTAWA, May 8 (Reuters) - Air Canada is in a good position to weather the recession, and if not for the downturn the company would require only fine-tuning, said the recently appointed chief executive of the country's biggest airline.

"My view is that Air Canada is extremely well positioned coming out of a recession and, were it not for a recession, you could tweak the cost side and you'd want to re-engage with the customer, but you would not want to dramatically restructure this company because this company has already been restructured," Calin Rovinescu told Reuters in an interview.

Air Canada said earlier on Friday that its quarterly loss deepened by 39 percent as travel demand continued to weaken, with tough conditions conditions continuing through 2009.

It laid out a five-point priority plan with relief from a C$2.85 billion ($2.48 billion) pension deficit and improved liquidity heading the list.

After meeting with senior government officials in Ottawa and labor union leaders, Air Canada proposed a moratorium on funding its pension deficit. At least one union, the Canadian Auto Workers, rejected the plan.

There have been no talks about the government taking a stake in the airline if conditions worsen, Rovinescu said.

"The answer is no. I think the government of Canada made it clear over 20 years ago, when the airline was privatized, that they didn't think the airlines should be owned by the government."

Air Canada also said on Friday that it has to find new ways to generate revenue, cut costs and grow profitably over the long term.

It has identified C$250 million in savings it can realize over the next 18 months and intends wrest more from suppliers, Rovinescu said.

"We intend to get more than C$250 (million) over time with a review of our suppliers," he said. "Air Canada is providing C$10 billion-plus of costs into the system then there's obviously many suppliers who are benefiting from its existence who should have a role in the solution."

Rovinescu, appointed just five weeks ago, said the C$250 million savings push could result in some layoffs as efficiency improves, but big job cuts are not part of the plan.

Despite widespread speculation the airline will need to file for creditor protection, Rovinescu, who was chief restructuring officer during Air Canada's 2003 restructuring under court protection, said that was not likely, and wasn't why he decided to return to the airline.

"It's a great, great company and has enormous potential. And so, from my perspective, the opportunity to see whether I can make some form of contribution to its emerging from this difficult recessionary period, it was a challenge that I quite frankly couldn't pass up," he said.

Shares in the company plunged on Friday, with class A shares dropping 25 percent to C$1.35 and class B shares losing 26 percent to C$1.33.

The decline followed gains of more than 50 percent in the previous two sessions, amid speculation an "open skies" treaty between Canada and the European Union could result in foreign investment in Air Canada.
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Old May 10th, 2009, 10:01 AM   #854
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A Blast from the Past
-Ok this is a bit of a historic picture in a sense. I remember this because it was a moment that nutured my love for aviation. It was the first time I had
ever seen an L1011. Air Canada had just had it delivered that week in 1972 and this was the Friday before it's inagural flight on the Monday... so Air Canada's first TriStar before entering service. I thought it was the most beautiful plane I had ever seen and ever since then I've followed aviation with a private passion.

An interesting note for Montreal planespotters - the balcony here in the front was the original outdoor spotting platform at Dorval's main terminal. You could go out the length of the main terminal building and take pictures, smell the jet fumes and wave goodbye or hello to people you knew coming or going on flights. It was great actually but of course hijackers or terrorists around the world shut this all down years ago, I think even by the time this photo was taken. Today it's been replaced with new gates along the front of the terminal. We can't even see out of the front of the terminal like this anymore.

From Flickr
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Old May 10th, 2009, 10:17 AM   #855
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I like Air Canada Logo.

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I love everybody.I think I cute ^__^ WOOW
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Old May 12th, 2009, 10:19 AM   #856
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Yeah I wonder where they flew those Tristars.
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Old May 13th, 2009, 11:08 AM   #857
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Aeroplan profit falls, says may help Air Canada

VANCOUVER, British Columbia , May 12 (Reuters) - Groupe Aeroplan Inc posted a lower quarterly profit on Tuesday and said reduced consumer spending made it difficult to predict its 2009 performance, sending the shares lower.

Aeroplan, best known as operator of Air Canada's frequent flier program, also said it would consider giving financial support to the cash-strapped airline over and above a current "faster payments" agreement it has with Air Canada.

"We will do what we need to do to preserve our commercial relationship with (Air Canada), but we wouldn't take any unreasonable risks to do that," Aeroplan Chief Executive Rupert Duchesne said.

"I think you can expect us to be prudent, but we would be crazy not to help out if we were asked, if that would make a fundamental difference to them," he said on a conference call with analysts.

Aeroplan announced last December it will pay Air Canada C$70 million ($60 million) ahead of schedule for reward tickets issued to help ease a cash crunch at Canada's biggest airline. That agreement is due to expire on May 29 but Duchesne said Aeroplan could consider extending it.

Analysts have speculated that Air Canada could be headed for bankruptcy again hobbled by a C$2.85 billion pension shortfall, tough economic conditions and stiff competition. The airline has said it is working to avoid a bankruptcy filing.

Duchesne also said Aeroplan was open to using its surplus cash for acquisitions and that "a lot of stuff" was being brought to the company to look at.

Although Aeroplan stock has been under pressure -- it fell 7 percent to C$8.21 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Tuesday and is down 47 percent in the past 12 months -- Duchesne said the firm has no plans to buy back its stock.

"If we get to the point at the end of this year and next year we haven't found any interesting acquisition opportunities, you can work out that we'll have substantial surplus cash at that point, then we would consider a buyback," he said.

For the first quarter, Aeroplan earned C$23.2 million, or 12 Canadian cents a share, down from C$42.1 million, or 21 Canadian cents a share, a year earlier.

Excluding charges, the loyalty program operator earned C$44.6 million, or 22 Canadian cents a share. Analysts had expected earnings of 27 Canadian cents a share, before items, according to Reuters Estimates.

Revenue, including gross billings on the sale of Aeroplan Miles, fell slightly to C$355.8 million.

The company declared a quarterly dividend of 12.5 Canadian cents.

($1=$1.16 Canadian)
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Old May 17th, 2009, 02:15 PM   #858
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Winnipeg man buoyed by ruling that grounds Air Canada baggage handling policy
16 May 2009
The Canadian Press

WINNIPEG _ A frequent flyer in Winnipeg is claiming a significant victory for fuming air travellers with lost or broken luggage after the Canadian Transportation Agency upheld his complaint about Air Canada's baggage handling policy.

``I see this as a landmark decision in passenger rights. It tells the airlines `You are not above the law,' '' said Gabor Lukacs, 26, an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Manitoba.

Lukacs filed the complaint over Air Canada's policy that it's not responsible for delayed or damaged baggage after returning to Winnipeg from a trip last fall. He said he was prompted by an airline notice about claims not being accepted for anything from scratches to missing straps, and was reminded of past aggravation over lost and damaged bags.

``I thought that it would give me a kind of moral high ground to be struggling for something where I'm not personally affected by it in any immediate way. It's not that I'm fighting for money. I'm fighting for something which is for everybody,'' he said.

The CTA _ an independent federal agency responsible for dispute resolution and economic regulation in the Canadian transportation industry _ ruled May 13 that Air Canada's policy violates both international conventions and Canadian law and must be changed within 90 days.

The airline has 45 days from the ruling to argue why it should not be required to alter its own policies on the issues.

Isabelle Arthur, a spokeswoman for Air Canada, said the airline is currently reviewing the ruling and is not in a position to comment.

Lukacs said airlines have an overwhelming financial advantage because they set the conditions, and individual passengers must go to court to challenge them.

``Who would go through the trouble of actually suing an airline for $50 or even $500 of damage to luggage. It's not worth it because you will have to hire a lawyer and they will probably charge you $5,000 or $10,000,'' he said.

Lukacs said he would like to see other passengers follow his lead and take their own action on problems facing the air travelling public. ``My dream would be to set up some kind of non-governmental organization that deals with providing accurate information and perhaps assistance to passengers who have problems.''

He also said he's pleased that Winnipeg NDP MP Jim Maloway is behind an airline passengers' bill of rights.

Lukacs, a native of Hungary, has taken on the airline industry in the past. Three years ago he agreed to a $6,000 settlement in a Nova Scotia court after he missed a conference because of a cancelled Continental Airlines flight.

He recently won a partial victory against Skywest Airlines in Manitoba Court of Queens Bench, but he's not satisfied with the award and has filed a motion for leave to appeal.

``I think there is a major consumer crisis here with what airlines are doing. I think passengers have to get organized and make their voices heard,'' he said.
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Old May 23rd, 2009, 08:39 AM   #859
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Air Canada unions get pension plea
'This is real-time'

22 May 2009
National Post

With a tough round of labour talks kicking off with the Canadian Auto Workers yesterday, Calin Rovinescu, Air Canada's chief executive, has made another desperate pitch to the airline's unions to support an immediate moratorium on its pension obligations before he takes the plan to Ottawa.

"This is real-time," Mr. Rovinescu said on a video that was posted on YouTube. "We need this right now."

Air Canada's pension solvency deficit grew to about $2.9-billion last year, from $1.2-billion in the previous year. This means the carrier is on the hook for about $650-million in funding requirements.

Mr. Rovinescu said that amount is unrealistic after the airline posted a $400-million loss in the first quarter and there is no end to the recession in sight.

The country's largest carrier is lobbying Ottawa for relief measures that could potentially reduce its funding requirements to about $570-million, in a best-case scenario.

But Air Canada will need further measures in place immediately, including a moratorium on its pension obligations, Mr. Rovinescu said.

"A moratorium is extremely critical to us," he said, adding he has floated the idea with officials in Ottawa.

"It requires, first and foremost, government approval. But my sense is that that government approval will come if we have the unions' support and the retirees' support," he said.

Management has already pitched the idea of a one-year moratorium on its funding obligations, followed by looser restrictions in subsequent years.

Its unions flatly rejected that plan, saying it provided few guarantees.

The airline has since brought forth another plan that includes a moratorium on past service payments, including the big bill created last year after the collapse of the markets, with the expectation the markets will recover along with its profits.

Until now, the hardest line has been taken by the CAW, which represents 4,500 of the airline's sales and service agents. Its leadership said it would not support any moratoriums unless Ottawa established a federal pension guarantee fund, akin to the one in the United States, to backstop its members' pensions.

The issue presented itself at the first round of collective bargaining between the airline and the CAW yesterday. The union is the first of the airline's four unions that must renegotiate contracts this summer. The CAW's current labour pact expires on May 31, the remaining ones expiring at the end of June.

Leslie Dias, CAW Local 2002 president, said the union still supports the idea of a federal fund to absorb some of the risk of a moratorium, but hinted the CAW was more open to discussions in the interim, in an interview after the meeting yesterday.

"Their original proposal isn't the same, and as a result our response is different," she said.

"We're in the process of considering what they have put on the table."

Most of Air Canada's unions have said they are open to discussing some sort of "temporary" solution, but want more guarantees in place before they do.

"They're betting on the market," said Katherine Thompson, Air Canada Component of CUPE president. "Unfortunately, they're asking the membership to bet on the market too, and we don't have the same ability to absorb the level of risk they seem to be comfortable with."

The CAW's labour talks are expected to continue until a deal -- or an impasse-- is reached, Ms. Dias said. The union, however, doesn't have a strike mandate and therefore there is no possibility of a labour disruption for at least 60 days after the its current contract expires next Sunday, if at all, she noted.

Still, any labour disruption would be extremely detrimental for an airline already fragile from the current downturn in demand.

"A labour disruption by any of the major unions could disrupt operations and force Air Canada into [bankruptcy] protection," said Cameron Doerksen, Versant Partners analyst, in a recent note to clients.
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Old May 23rd, 2009, 09:29 AM   #860
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Still waiting: Air Canada unsure about OC service


Air Canada still has not made a decision on whether to begin service to and from John Wayne Airport.

The airline has been approved to start service since April 1 and noise tests on its aircraft at John Wayne Airport were performed in early spring. Airport officials said they expected Air Canada to start operations for the busy summer travel season. But the airline has not made a move.

“A final decision on starting up the route had not been made,” said Isabelle Arthur, manager of media relations for the airline. “If and when we make a decision to proceed, we would make that announcement in due course.”

Air Canada remains at the top of the official John Wayne waiting list for open slots. The next step would be for the airline to sign a lease or inform the airport it did not plan on starting service.

Air Canada is followed on the list by discount carrier AirTran, Canadian-based carrier WestJet and regional carrier Horizon Air.

Virgin America began service at John Wayne Airport last month and Southwest added flights to San Francisco. The Air Canada service would have been the next step in reclaiming flights lost in 2008 when Aloha Airlines went out of business and Alaska Airlines stopped flying to Oakland.
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