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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - WestJet Airlines Ltd, Canada's No. 2 carrier, said on Tuesday that passenger levels raced higher in March, with customers flocking to the airline as pressure from the economic downturn eased.
WestJet said its March load factor, a measure of how full its flights to Canada, the United States and elsewhere were during the month, rose 1.9 percentage points from March 2009 to 83.8 percent, despite a big rise in its capacity.
The Calgary-based airline said it flew 94,000 more passengers last month compared with the year-earlier period, as the economy strengthened.
The carrier's capacity, measured in available seat miles, rose 7.4 percent to 1.63 billion as it increased space to southern vacation destinations.
However that rise was outmatched by an increase in customers, measured in revenue passenger miles, which rose 10 percent to 1.37 billion from 1.25 billion in March 2009.
"WestJet's increased capacity ... (was) deployed into southern markets and benefited from WestJet's strong brand and strengthening sales channels," Gregg Saretsky, WestJet's recently appointed chief executive, said in a statement.
"We continue to draw from our entire route network to fill our south-bound aircraft with a healthy mix of WestJet and WestJet Vacations guests," Saretsky said.
The company said the rise in traffic was encouraging but it continues to expect a decline in revenue per available seat mile of up to 3 percent for the first quarter of the year.
Air Canada is expected to release its March load data later on Tuesday.
WestJet shares were off 11 Canadian cents, or 0.8 percent, at C$13.43 by midmorning on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Reporting by Scott Haggett; editing by Rob Wilson