May 4, 2011 / 1:28 PM / in 7 years

UPDATE 2-WestJet April flights a bit emptier; Porter fuller

* WestJet load factor 83.6 pct vs 84 pct year-ago

* WestJet CEO sees market continue to absorb fare hikes

* Porter load factor rises 6.5 points to 54.1 pct (Recasts with Porter data)

VANCOUVER, May 4 (Reuters) - WestJet Airlines (WJA.TO), Canada’s second-biggest carrier, flew slightly emptier planes in April compared with the same month a year earlier, while the flights of smaller rival Porter Airlines were fuller.

WestJet reported a load factor of 83.6 percent, down from 84 percent in April 2010, as the increase in passengers fell just short of the airline’s capacity increase.

Hit by rising fuel prices, WestJet has raised its airfares five times so far this year. The company says passengers have not been scared off by the hikes and on Wednesday expressed confidence that this would continue.

“We are optimistic that demand for air travel will remain strong and the market will continue to absorb the fare levels necessary to offset elevated fuel costs,” WestJet Chief Executive Gregg Saretsky said in a statement.

The airline said its traffic, measured in revenue passenger miles, increased 11.8 percent year-over-year in April. Capacity, measured in available seat miles, rose 12.3 percent in the same period.

Smaller rival Porter said its load factor rose 6.5 points to 54.1 percent in April as traffic on its planes rose 26 percent outflanking a 10.8 percent increase in capacity.

“New capacity on routes such as Ottawa-Moncton and Montreal-Halifax is being well received and we anticipate demand will remain strong in coming months,” Porter Chief Executive Robert Deluce said.

Porter, whose hub is the small Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, this week lost its monopoly at the conveniently located downtown airport when much bigger rival, Air Canada ACa.TO ACb.TO, relaunched its service from that airport. (Reporting by Nicole Mordant and Arnika Thakur in Bangalore; Editing by Peter Galloway)

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