* Air Canada load factor slips to 77.5 percent
* Air Canada capacity gains outstrip traffic growth
* WestJet January load factor a record 78.8 pct
* WestJet traffic up 9.7 pct, capacity 6.9 pct higher (Recasts to add Air Canada figures; updates shares.)
OTTAWA, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Air Canada ACa.TO ACb.TO, the county’s No. 1 airline, said its planes flew less full last month even as smaller rival WestJet Airlines Ltd (WJA.TO) said its flights were more crowded.
Air Canada, said its load factor, the percentage of available seats filled with paying customers, slipped 0.6 percentage points to 77.5 percent from January, 2008, when the measure rose to a record for the month.
Traffic on Air Canada and its regional carrier Jazz JAZ_u.TO, increased 4.1 per cent to 3.86 billion revenue passenger miles but that gain was more than offset by a 4.9 percent rise in capacity, or available seat miles, to 4.99 billion.
“This result is close to last year’s record load factor for the same month underscoring the on-going effectiveness of our disciplined approach to capacity management in a difficult economic environment,” Calin Rovinescu, Air Canada’s chief executive, said in a statement. “
WestJet, the country’s No. 2 airline, said on Wednesday its planes flew fuller in January, helped by increased vacation travel.
The carrier said its load factor rose to a record high of 78.8 percent from 76.8 percent in January 2009.
Traffic, or revenue passenger miles, increased 9.7 percent year-over-year, while capacity, or available seat miles, rose by 6.9 percent.
“As we continue to endure the challenges of an uncertain economy, we are happy to be starting 2010 on the right foot,” said WestJet Chief Executive Sean Durfy.
“These great traffic results help illustrate the success of our seasonal deployment strategy and the continuing strength of WestJet Vacations and the WestJet brand.”
The company said it launched new services in January to several “sun destinations” in the United States and Mexico.
The Calgary, Alberta-based airline has said that transition problems with its Sabre reservation system would hurt fourth-quarter results, which are expected Feb. 17. It has forecast a decline in revenue per seat mile of 11 percent to 13 percent from the year-before quarter.
WestJet shares rose 5 Canadian cents to C$13.30 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Wednesday while Air Canada class B shares fell 3 Canadian cents to C$1.31.
$1=$1.06 Canadian Reporting by Susan Taylor, additional reporting by Scott Haggett in Calgary; editing by Rob Wilson