* Air Canada load factor hits 79.4 pct
* WestJet load factor at 80.9 pct
* WestJet shares up 2.6 pct; Air Canada edges higher
* Porter load factor slips to 53.6 pct from 55.7 pct
TORONTO, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Canada’s two listed airlines flew fuller planes in January, with dominant carrier Air Canada and rival WestJet Airlines both reporting higher monthly passenger levels as demand for air travel remained strong after the holiday season.
Air Canada said on Tuesday its load factor, or the percentage of available seats filled with paying customers, rose to 79.4 percent, a record for January. It compares with 79.1 percent a year earlier.
The airline, which plans to launch a low-cost vacation carrier this summer, reported a traffic increase of 0.3 percent last month. Capacity, which is measured in available seat miles, fell 0.1 percent.
WestJet, Canada’s second-largest carrier, said its load factor rose to a record 80.9 percent from 79.9 percent a year before.
Traffic, as measured by revenue passenger miles, climbed 7.7 percent year over year, while capacity rose 6.4 percent from a year before.
“The January load factor was the seventh consecutive monthly record for WestJet, a clear indication of healthy air travel demand,” Cameron Doerksen, an analyst with National Bank Financial, said in a research note.
“The company also indicated that forward bookings remain strong so we anticipate continued strong traffic numbers in the coming months.”
Porter Airlines, a privately owned Canadian short-haul airline, reported a load factor of 53.6 percent in January, down from 55.7 percent a year ago.
Porter saw an increase in traffic of 0.8 percent and a 4.7 percent rise in capacity year over year.
Shares of Air Canada, which will report quarterly earnings on Thursday, climbed 2 Canadian cents to C$2.45. WestJet, which will report its 2012 fourth-quarter results on Wednesday, rose 3.3 percent to C$22.55.