* February load 82.5 pct vs year-ago 82.6 pct
* Traffic climbs 9 pct, capacity up 9.3 pct
* Sees Q1 RASM falling by less than 3 pct
OTTAWA, March 3 (Reuters) - WestJet Airlines Ltd (WJA.TO), Canada’s second-biggest carrier, said on Wednesday it flew only slightly emptier planes in February as it increased capacity and traffic, and that it expects first-quarter revenue per available seat mile to dip by less than 3 percent.
The no-frills airline said capacity increases were focused on the southern United States, Mexico and the Caribbean and helped offset a traditionally weak travel period.
“While we are seeing signs of a slight, albeit slow, improvement in the demand environment, first quarter RASM (revenue per available seat mile) is tracking to an anticipated decline of less than 3 percent,” Chief Executive Sean Durfy said in a statement.
“We are encouraged by these positive indications and feel well positioned to capitalize on improving industry conditions.”
The Calgary, Alberta-based company said its February load factor, or the percentage of available seats filled with paying passengers, declined to 82.5 percent from 82.6 percent in the same period last year.
Traffic, measured by revenue passenger miles, rose by 9 percent year-over-year, and capacity, or available seat miles, increased by 9.3 percent.
WestJet shares dropped 2 Canadian cents to C$14.10 on the Toronto Stock Exchange in opening trade on Wednesday. ($1=$1.03 Canadian) (Reporting by Susan Taylor; editing by Peter Galloway)