July 6, 2011 / 1:29 PM / 6 years ago

Air Canada, WestJet fliers got elbow room in June

3 Min Read

<p>Air Canada Inc.'s president and CEO Calin Rovinescu attends the company's annual shareholders meeting in Montreal May 5, 2011.Shaun Best</p>

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Air Canada and WestJet Airlines, Canada's two biggest carriers, flew emptier planes in June but both were optimistic about a pickup during the busy travel months in the summer.

Air Canada, the country's biggest carrier, said on Wednesday its system-wide load factor, which includes regional airlines from which it purchases capacity, dipped to 84.2 percent in June from 84.7 percent in the same month a year earlier.

That was because the capacity across its fleet rose 3 percent last month, while traffic rose just 2.5 percent, it said.

The airline flew 122,000 passengers on the last day of June 2011, "a record for a single day as we head into the peak summer travel season", Air Canada Chief Executive Calin Rovinescu said in a statement.

July and August are traditionally the two busiest months of the year for Canadian airlines .

Air Canada's biggest domestic competitor, WestJet, said its planes were also emptier in June, resulting in its load factor dropping to 75.7 percent from 78.2 percent in June 2010, a weaker result than analysts had expected.

"Although loads were slightly down for June, ... We are pleased with the advanced bookings for July and August, and the pricing environment continues to be strong," said Gregg Saretsky, WestJet's chief executive.

Analysts stayed optimistic about WestJet's longer-term prospects.

"With forward bookings strong and the pricing environment still favorable, we expect solid year-over-year unit revenue improvements to continue into the third quarter," National Bank Financial analyst Cameron Doerksen said in a note to clients.

Meanwhile, much smaller rival Porter Airlines said its load factor jumped 12.4 points to 64.6 percent in June.

The privately owned carrier, which offers short-haul flights in Eastern Canada and into the United States, said its traffic leaped 47.9 percent, well ahead of a 19.5 percent capacity increase.

Air Canada's shares ended 1 Canadian cent firmer at C$2.36 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Wednesday, while WestJet's rose 5 Canadian cents to C$14.86.

($1=$0.97 Canadian)

Reporting Nicole Mordant; additional reporting by Maneesha Tiwari in Bangalore; Editing by Prem Udayabhanu and Peter Galloway

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