The WestJet Group yesterday brought together leaders, representing all parts of the operations and business, to hear directly from Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Alexis von Hoensbroech, as he shared plans for growth into the COVID recovery, and the airline’s commitment to embracing its cost-conscious roots in service of affordable air travel for Canadians.
“The immediate priority is to ensure we are ready for the high volume of pent-up travel demand this summer,” said Alexis von Hoensbroech, CEO of the WestJet Group. “Equally important is charting a path that continues to grow WestJet as the friendly, reliable and affordable airline our guests know and love.”
Since arriving on February 15, 2022, von Hoensbroech spent his first 100 days getting to know the airline’s people, guests and network. Joining at a critical inflection point as the WestJet Group emerges from the pandemic, the executive team around von Hoensbroech and WestJet’s board of directors undertook a strategic review to determine the best course for sustained future success for the airline and its people.
“WestJet is strong foundationally, having weathered the pandemic as perhaps the world’s only airline of scale that did not accept sector-specific government funding or issue any new equity or debt. We’re now at an exciting and pivotal moment for the industry and our airline,” continued von Hoensbroech. “As we emerge from the pandemic, the world around us is changing with rising inflation and instability from the war in Ukraine. We are also facing industry-specific challenges, including spiking oil prices and staffing shortages at airports.”
The WestJet Group’s strategic growth plans
Through the strategic review, the airline looked to historical strengths to secure future success, honing in on a focused network and strategy; an unrelenting cost commitment; and a consistent, superior guest experience.
To build upon the reasons why guests choose WestJet and drive future growth, WestJet will renew its focus on:
- Growth as a low-cost carrier that is friendly, reliable and modern
- Shifting resources to significantly grow its presence and network in the West, fostering its undisputed status as the home-team carrier of Western Canada offering more direct, non-stop flights to communities
- Investing further in leisure and sun flying as a priority across Canada, including through the acquisition of Sunwing, following regulatory approval
- Investing in technology and radical digitalization to improve guest experience and simplify internal processes to ensure meaningful and engaging jobs for its people
- Redoubling efforts to maintain its successful and highly productive low-cost structure and culture, to ensure relentless competitiveness and affordability for guests
To match its commercial strategies, the airline will centre its existing widebody 787 Dreamliner fleet around Western Canada and, for the time being, pause further investment into incremental Dreamliners to focus instead on additional narrowbody growth. In addition to the more than 30 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft that the airline will receive over the coming years, including 15 in 2022 alone, WestJet is working towards a substantial additional narrow body order.
The airline will maintain its current premium offerings, with a focus on strengthening its premium leisure segment and corporate premium in the West. The focus of WestJet’s regional fleet of De Haviland Q400 aircraft will be shifted and rightsized to focus on Western Canada, removing complexity from operations, and prioritizing the airline’s commitment to enhance Western Canada’s connectivity.
Network changes are complex and will be phased in over an extended period of time. The airline is committed to engaging with communities and stakeholders in these plans. Guests can anticipate seeing changes gradually implemented by summer 2023.
“We will deploy our aircraft where they can be of greatest service to Canadians,” explained von Hoensbroech. “While we will be investing the majority of our fleet in the West, as a national airline we will maintain a significant presence in the Eastern provinces, primarily through direct connections to our Western cities, while significantly enhancing our network to leisure and sun destinations, including through our acquisition of Sunwing.”
WestJet will also continue to significantly scale other areas of the business that remain critical, namely WestJet Cargo, Loyalty, WestJet Vacations and Swoop, it’s ultra-low-cost carrier. The acquisition of Sunwing will facilitate the scaling of WestJet Vacations and Swoop.
“Swoop is an important part of our strategy with a tremendous cost structure, and we still have plenty of room to grow and bring lower fares to our guests,” added von Hoensbroech. “WestJet and Swoop will run more complementary networks and collectively meet the demand of leisure travellers.”
Strengthening the airline’s leadership team, the WestJet Group announced the addition of Bob Cummings as President of Swoop on April 13, along with Kirsten de Bruijn, Executive Vice-President, Cargo on April 5 and Karl Schuster, Executive Vice-President and Chief Loyalty Officer late last year.
“WestJet’s low-cost roots have been the foundation of the historical success of our company. As we realize our ambitious growth plans, we will bring more air service to Canadian communities and connect more people to what matters most, through friendly and affordable air travel,” concluded von Hoensbroech.
Strengthening the airline’s senior leadership team
To support the fulfillment of its strategic direction, the airline has further strengthened its senior leadership team with a number of new appointments:
Angela Avery, Group EVP and Chief People, Corporate & Sustainability Officer
Angela Avery joined WestJet in February 2020 as General Counsel and Corporate Secretary. In her newly expanded role, she brings together complementary teams including People and Culture, Communications, Legal, Government, Regulatory, Community Investment, and Environment, Social and Governance (ESG). Avery will be leading an inclusive, engaged and purpose-led team focused on supporting all aspects of WestJet’s business and meeting the needs of the communities that the WestJet Group serves.
With more than 25 years of legal and commercial leadership experience across multiple industries, Avery has led transactions totalling more than $25 billion and has an extensive regulatory and compliance background. Avery joined WestJet from Athabasca Oil Corporation where she was responsible for legal, business development, human resources as well as marketing and transportation. Her international experience includes an appointment to litigate war reparations at the United Nations. She is called to the bar in New York and Alberta and received a Queen’s Counsel designation in 2022.
Christian Novosel, Chief Digital Officer
Christian Novosel will join the executive leadership team in August. Responsible for Digital Technology Delivery, Data Analytics and Business Intelligence and the Group Project Management Office, he will be integral to the ongoing development and delivery of WestJet’s enterprise-wide digital transformation for both its guests and people.
Novosel joins WestJet with almost 20 years of aviation experience most recently serving as Head of Corporate Development and Chief Data Officer for Austrian Airlines. In this role, he established the airline’s centralized digital team and led several strategic and innovating processes to implement digital solutions across the organization.
Natalie Farand, Chief Experience Officer
Natalie Farand will take on the newly created role of Chief Experience Officer (CXO). Led by Farand, the CXO team will define WestJet’s value proposition and enable WestJet to successfully engage stakeholders to activate a guest-centric vision and strategy.
In her eight years with WestJet, and most recently as WestJet’s Vice-President Guest Experience, Farand has led many digital functions from eCommerce, User Experience, Digital Marketing and Analytics. Farand introduced the User Experience discipline within WestJet, putting focus on the voice of the guest, and was responsible for the Digital Channel and Product strategic roadmaps and operations at WestJet, including the website, mobile app, chatbot, inflight entertainment system and eCommerce platforms.
Jeff Hagen, Vice-President Strategy and Fleet
Jeff Hagen, already part of the WestJet leadership team, will take on a new role as Vice-President, Strategy and Fleet. Responsible for leading WestJet’s strategic transformation to a low-cost carrier, the strategy team will also encompass the office of the CEO, enterprise strategy and fleet.
Hagen has been with WestJet for more than eight years and has held a variety of roles in that time including corporate development and planning, and head of investor relations. During this time, he played key roles in important company milestones including the airline’s purchase by Onex and the current Sunwing acquisition, awaiting regulatory approvals.