WestJet CEO says he'll take first flight aboard 737 Max 8 when flights resume

WestJet CEO Ed Sims gave airplane manufacturer Boeing his vote of confidence Tuesday, pledging to be on his airline's first flight on the Max 8 once they're cleared for service.

Ed Sims says he continues to believe in the 'standards, ethics and production values' of Boeing

WestJet president and CEO Ed Sims wrote an open letter to MPs and Senators and said "we share the Government of Canada’s desire to have responsible refund policies and look forward to suggestions on how WestJet can continue to lead on this issue." (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

WestJet Airlines CEO Ed Sims gave airplane manufacturer Boeing his vote of confidence Tuesday, pledging to be on his airline's first flight of the 737 Max once the aircraft are returned to service.

"We will do all we can to provide the reassurance that these aircraft will likely be the safest narrow-bodied aircraft to ever enter service," Sims told reporters following his company's annual meeting in Calgary.

"Almost certainly I and my family will be on the very first flight that's reintroduced to service. And I think it's only appropriate that as leader of this organization I should put my own personal commitment behind the safety standards of this aircraft."

Safety concerns continue to hang over the 737 Max aircraft after Boeing said a safety alert sensor malfunctioned on an Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed last March and on the Lion Air crash off the coast of Indonesia in October.

Canada joined other countries worldwide in grounding all Boeing 737 Max aircraft in March until further notice.

WestJet fleet relies heavily on Boeing

The Max 8 makes up seven per cent of WestJet's total fleet and represents 10 per cent of its total capacity in 2019. The airline has 13 of Boeing's Max 8 aircraft and has four more on order.

Sims believes there's now a "critical path towards resolution of the issues around the Max," including the joint work of regulators worldwide, Boeing software enhancements and pilot training.

Calgary-based WestJet Airlines says its revenue totalled $1.26 billion in the first quarter of 2019, up from $1.19 billion in the same quarter last year. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Sims said he has confidence the new software enhancements will be a relatively seamless procedure.

But he said the airline would only operate the aircraft when they're satisfied it has met WestJet safety standards in addition to the safety standards specified by Transport Canada.

All of the airline's jet fleet is made up of Boeing aircraft, Sims told shareholders.

But WestJet maintains a close relationship with Boeing competitor Airbus, he said, and "keeps all its options open" in terms of what its future fleet might look like.

The airline is evaluating both the direct and indirect costs WestJet has incurred since the grounding of the aircraft and determining how those costs might be shared with Boeing.

Sims said that might take the form of financial compensation or future credits.

"I continue to believe in the standards, ethics and production values of the Boeing company," Sims told investors.

The comments came as the company also released its first-quarter earnings.

1st quarter profit up 30%

On Tuesday, WestJet announced that it topped expectations as it reported its first-quarter profit climbed more than 30 per cent compared with a year ago.

The airline said it earned $45.6 million or 40 cents per diluted share for the quarter ended March 31 compared with a profit of $34.2 million or 30 cents per diluted share a year ago.

Revenue totalled $1.26 billion, up from $1.19 billion in the same quarter last year.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of 30 cents per share and revenue of $1.28 billion, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon.

The increased earnings came as WestJet saw both its capacity, measured by available seat miles, and its traffic, measured by revenue passenger miles, climb by 5.3 per cent compared with a year ago.

WestJet's load factor, a measure of how full its aircraft were, held steady at 84.8 per cent in the quarter.

Analyst Doug Taylor of Canaccord Genuity called the results "mixed," noting solid profits, but "slightly disappointing" revenue per available seat mile (RASM), a key performance measure.

With files from the Canadian Press


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