Flair Airlines' expansion called 'shot across the bow of WestJet'

A Canadian aviation analyst says a move by Kelowna-based Flair Airlines to expand westward could be an effort to capitalize on some weaknesses in the market.

'I think Flair has decided to go after a lot of these routes in a more focused fashion'

Kelowna-based Flair Airlines is going to offer new direct flights from Winnipeg to Calgary and Vancouver as it increases its flights per week to 208 in June. (CBC)

A Canadian aviation analyst says a move by Kelowna-based Flair Airlines to expand westward could be an effort to capitalize on some weaknesses in the market.

The low-cost airline is more than doubling its flights per week and adding new service to destinations that include Saskatoon and Calgary.

Flair Airlines has also announced new direct flights from Winnipeg to Calgary and Vancouver as it increases in June its flights per week to 208 from the 90 it currently offers.

CEO Jim Scott said in a statement that Canadians will benefit significantly because every time the airline enters a market, fares drop almost immediately by more than 20 per cent on the routes it serves.

Flair bills itself as the country's only low-cost airline, and Scott says the expanded flight schedule is a clear indication that the demand is strong for such an option.

Robert Kokonis, a Toronto-based aviation consultant, says it's an aggressive strategy.

"Two routes out of Calgary to Winnipeg and Vancouver, I mean that's taking a shot across the bow of WestJet because that's head office and the second largest base after Toronto."

Flair will also begin flying from Halifax, Saskatoon, Prince George and Victoria, resulting in a more than doubling of its flights per week.

Kokonis says there are likely two factors behind the expansion. First is the recent labour problems at WestJet sparked by the launch of its new low-cost airline, Swoop, which is scheduled for June. And second, the delay of another ultra-low cost airline, Jetlines.

"So, with that uncertainty there — Jetlines not launching this summer — with WestJet's labour turmoil, I think Flair has decided to go after a lot of these routes in a more focused fashion," he said.

Kokonis says that if Flair expands carefully, going after people who travel rarely or not at all, there should be room in the market.

He says the winners will be consumers, who should see a drop in ticket prices as soon as this summer.

With files from The Canadian Press