WestJet grows on strong rebound in business travel

WestJet grows on strong rebound in business travel

Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet Airlines reported earnings ahead of industry expectations for the third quarter, as a rebound in travel demand, tight cost control and new partnerships boosted results.

Calgary-based WestJet reported fourth quarter net earnings of $47.9 million, or $0.33 cents per diluted share - up from C$20.2 million or 14 Canadian cents a year earlier.

Excluding special items, this represents record fourth quarter net earnings and an increase of 217 per cent compared to the fourth quarter of 2009.

“To finish 2010 with our 23rd consecutive profitable quarter, one in which we saw our net earnings increase 217 per cent, is an accomplishment we are all very proud of,” said WestJet president Gregg Saretsky.

Operating margins at the airline jumped to 11.4 per cent and revenue per available seat mile, or RASM, improved by just under seven per cent.

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WestJet has been pursuing an aggressive expansion into the America market recently – having signed codeshare deals with Delta Air Lines and American Airlines.

“The launch of our Frequent Guest and Credit Card programs and the ongoing additions to our airline partnerships are examples of how we are now capitalising on the significant investment in our reservations systems,” added Saretsky.

However, aircraft acquisition plans have been delayed.

As part of an ongoing fleet planning review, the airline said it has deferred six aircraft deliveries from 2012-2015 out to 2017 and 2018.

“The decision to defer these aircraft deliveries increases the flexibility in our fleet plan and creates some additional pricing power for us at a time of rising fuel costs and global economic uncertainty,” WestJet said.

It noted that its entire order with Boeing remains intact.

WestJet’s board of directors declared a cash dividend of $0.05 per common voting share and variable voting share for the first quarter of 2011, to be paid on March 31st, 2011, to shareholders of record on March 16th, 2011.

In Toronto earlier, WestJet closed at C$13.20, down 0.5 per cent.