Thunder Bay

Former WestJet CEO joins Wasaya board

A former WestJet CEO with decades of airline experience is among the eight people named as the new board of directors of Wasaya Airways.

New board appointed this week

Wasaya Airways named its new board of directors this week. (Wasaya Airways)

A former WestJet CEO is looking forward to the challenges posed by his new position as a board member of Wasaya Airways, a First Nations owned airline based in northwestern Ontario. 

Stephen Smith was one of eight people named to Wasaya's board this week.

Smith is a 30-year veteran of the airline industry, and former CEO of WestJet and Air Canada's discount airline Zip.

Former WestJet CEO Stephen Smith has joined the board of directors of Wasaya Airways.

"I'm really looking forward to supporting [the] management team, and really trying to take Wasaya to the next step since it's now come out of restructuring," he said. "Really make it profitable on an ongoing basis, which I believe we can do."

Wasaya recently underwent restructuring to address more than $35 million in debt.

Smith said the key focuses will be profitability, safety, and supporting the First Nations communities Wasaya serves.

"I'm very bullish on the company, and very bullish on the people in the company, and know that we'll be successful," Smith said.

Smith acknowledged Wasaya faces unique challenges as a small airline serving remote northern communities.

"The weather is a challenge, the terrain is a challenge, but that's what makes Wasaya so interesting, to be quite honest," he said. "There is a market there, and the fact that it's survived this long is testament to that."

"The last thing I'd want to do is be on the board of a monopoly. I would find that extremely boring."

Worked with Wasaya president at Zip

Smith came to the Wasaya board via company president and CEO Michael Rodyniuk, whom Smith worked with at Zip.

"[Rodyniuk] gave me a call and asked me if I would be interested in helping him out at Wasaya in terms of being on the board," Smith said. "I said 'absolutely.'"

Wasaya is owned by 12 northern Ontario First Nations communities.

The other members of the new board are:

  • Adam Fiddler
  • Amanda Sinnawap
  • Eric Long
  • Geordi Kakepetum
  • Ian McCormack
  • Michael Hardy
  • Sean Davis

The board was formally appointed on Wednesday.