Air Canada to boost capacity in Western Canada as rival gears up

(Reuters) - Air Canada will boost capacity in Western Canada this spring and summer, the airline said on Friday, introducing new, larger aircraft and more flights as its biggest domestic rival launches a short-haul airline.

An Air Canada plane lands in front of a United plane at the Calgary International Airport in Calgary, Alberta, June 17, 2008. REUTERS/Todd Korol

Air Canada, the country’s biggest airline, will replace its 50-seat Bombardier Inc CRJ100/200ER aircraft on Western Canadian routes with new Bombardier 74-seater Q400 Next Generation aircraft. That is the same plane that competitor WestJet Airlines Ltd will use for its new regional carrier Encore.

Encore will be launched in the second half of this year, connecting smaller communities that have often only been served by Air Canada. WestJet has not yet revealed its initial routes and schedules for Encore but has had a strong presence in Western Canada, where it is headquartered.

Air Canada is boosting capacity to meet “strong demand” in Western Canada, Marcel Forget, vice president of network planning, said in a statement.

More Q400 aircraft will be rolled out on additional routes in British Columbia, Alberta and the Northwest Territories in the coming months, he said.

Seat capacity on some routes will double this spring.

Competition in Canadian skies will further heat up this year as Air Canada also plans to launch a low-cost carrier, Rouge, to fly to Europe and the Caribbean.

Air Canada said on Thursday it was recruiting the first 150 flight attendants for Rouge.

Rouge will begin with older planes from Air Canada’s mainline operations, as new, replacement aircraft, including 37 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, are received.

The delivery schedule has been put in question, given the worldwide grounding of the new, high-tech jetliner over battery problems.

Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Janet Guttsman and Jeffrey Benkoe