(Adds details, context)
* Air travel demand remains healthy in January
* Strong start to year augurs well for 2012
* Traffic rise tops capacity increase at Air Canada, WestJet, Porter (Adds figures for Air Canada, detail)
Feb 6 (Reuters) - - Canadian airlines flew closer to full capacity in January than a year earlier as robust demand for air travel extended into what is traditionally a slow month for business travel.
Air Canada, Canada’s biggest airline, reported a systemwide load factor of 79.1 percent last month, up from 78 percent in January 2011 as a 1.9 percent increase in capacity was easily absorbed by a 3.3 percent rise in traffic.
Air Canada, which operates domestic and international flights, generated greater traffic in all markets, chief executive Calin Rovinescu said.
WestJet Airlines, Canada’s second-biggest carrier, boosted its load factor last month to 79.9 percent from 77.8 percent in January 2011.
Traffic on the airline, which flies to the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean as well as within Canada, jumped 11.5 percent, outflanking an 8.5 percent increase in capacity.
“Our capacity increases are being nicely absorbed and the healthy demand for air travel has continued into the new year,” WestJet President and CEO Gregg Saretsky said.
Westjet reports fourth quarter and full-year financial results on Wednesday. The airline will report back shortly on whether its employees support its plan to launch a regional carrier in Canada.
Closely owned Porter Airlines also reported a higher load factor of 55.7 percent, up 4 percentage points. (Reporting by Aftab Ahmed in Bangalore and Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Supriya Kurane and Janet Guttsman)