February 21, 2012 / 10:14 PM / in 6 years

Chorus says can defend turf vs WestJet expansion

* CEO says Chorus has bigger, more diversified fleet

* Watching WestJet’s plans “very carefully”

* Chorus back to profit in Q4, in line with forecasts

* Shares close up 2.7 pct

Feb 21 (Reuters) - Chorus Aviation’s bigger and more diversified fleet will help it defend its turf against WestJet Airline’s planned regional airline in Canada, Chorus’s chief executive said on Tuesday.

Even so, Chorus, which flies short-haul routes for Air Canada under the Jazz brand, is following WestJet’s plans “very carefully”, CEO and President Joseph Randell said.

“We’re able to efficiently serve a lot of markets,” Randell told analysts and media on a conference call to discuss Chorus’s fourth quarter results, which were in line with analyst forecasts.

“We’ve got a lot of flexibility in terms of the aircraft type, the aircraft size, whereas WestJet is planning just to fly 40 of a large turboprop aircraft,” he said.

Under a so-called capacity purchase agreement, Chorus operates 125 aircraft for Air Canada, flying to smaller destinations as well as to large communities at off-peak hours throughout Canada and into the United States.

WestJet, Canada’s second biggest airline, said this month that it will launch a regional operation to serve smaller Canadian destinations, putting it head-to-head with Air Canada and Chorus who currently have monopolies on some of these routes.

WestJet plans to launch the carrier next year with a fleet of about 40 turboprop planes.

“By necessity, there will be some differences, I believe, in the missions and the networks that are operated,” Randell said, adding that all commercial decisions were Air Canada’s to make.

Chorus released its results on Monday, reporting a profit of C$22.7 million ($22.7 million) or 18 Canadian cents a share, in the three months to Dec. 31. That compared with a loss of C$11.9 million, or 10 Canadian cents a share, in the same period in 2010.

Chorus’s shares closed 2.7 percent higher at C$3.83 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Tuesday.

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