CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canada's two major airlines said on Wednesday their planes flew with higher passenger loads in December as Air Canada cut capacity and smaller rival WestJet Airlines Ltd attracted more travelers despite a weak economy.
Air Canada, the biggest national carrier, said its load factor, a measure of how crowded its planes flew, rose to 82.7 percent in December, up 3.4 percentage points from 79.3 percent in December 2007.
The airline said its December revenue passenger miles, a traffic measure, fell 6.2 percent from the year-prior month, to 3.43 billion miles.
However the drop in paying passengers was outstripped by a 10 percent cut in the airline's capacity as it followed through on previously announced plans to drop some flights and routes to cope with the weakening economy and heavy fuel costs.
The airline's available seat miles dropped to 4.15 billion from 4.61 billion in the month.
Air Canada's regional affiliate, Jazz Air, reported a 1.4 percentage point drop in its December load factor, to 72.1 percent, as a 10.8 decline in traffic outstripped a 9.1 percent cut in the carrier's capacity.
WestJet, which unlike Air Canada operates mostly in the domestic market, said December traffic rose even as it continued to boost capacity.
WestJet's load factor in the month rose 1.6 percentage points to 80.9 percent. It added new aircraft and raised its available seat miles by 10.6 percent to 1.46 billion.
Revenue passenger miles climbed 12.8 percent to 1.18 billion from 1.05 billion in December 2007.
The two airlines also released their full year results. Air Canada's 2008 load factor rose 1.1 percentage points to 82.3 percent as traffic climbed 0.1 percent over the year while capacity fell 1.2 percent.
WestJet's 2008 load factor fell 0.6 percentage points as a 12.3 percent rise in capacity surpassed a 12.2 percent increase in traffic.
Reporting by Scott Haggett; editing by Rob Wilson