* WestJet traffic up 9.7 percent, capacity up 11.2 pct
* WestJet load factor 77.8 pct vs year-earlier 78.8 pct
* Porter Airline load factor 51.7 pct vs year-ago 44.1 pct
* Porter traffic 36.8 pct higher, capacity up 16.7 pct
OTTAWA, Feb 3 (Reuters) - WestJet Airlines Ltd WJA.TO, Canada’s No. 2 carrier, and privately held regional carrier Porter Airlines said on Thursday they boosted capacity in January as demand for air travel continued to recover.
WestJet said its load factor, a key industry measure that tracks the proportion of available seats filled with paying customers, was the second highest for the month of January in its history.
WestJet’s load dipped to 77.8 percent from 78.8 percent in January 2010 as the Calgary-based airline increased capacity, or available seat miles, by 11.2 percent from the year-prior period.
Traffic, or revenue passenger miles, rose 9.7 percent, the airline said.
“We are encouraged by improved pricing and demand in the air travel market, as well as the growth of our business bookings,” WestJet Chief Executive Gregg Saretsky said.
“Our capacity additions continue to be absorbed and we are happy with our strong January load factor.”
Porter, a small airline that flies out of Toronto’s downtown Billy Bishop Airport, said it increased capacity by 16.7 percent and traffic by 36.8 percent over January 2010.
The January load factor rose to 51.7 percent from 44.1 percent, Porter said.
“These numbers are a good beginning for what we anticipate will be another year of growth at Porter,” said Chief Executive Robert Deluce.
“The increase in load factor is encouraging during the traditionally slow first quarter when available seat miles are strategically reduced across our network compared to peak periods.”
Porter said it will take delivery of four new Bombardier BBDb.TO Q400 turboprops in the second half of 2011, which will increase its fleet to 24 planes. It plans to announce new destinations and increased flights prior to the deliveries.
Shares of WestJet, which reports quarterly financial results on Feb. 9, were up 4 Canadian cents at C$13.32 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday morning.
Analysts, on average, expect WestJet to report a profit of 16 Canadian cents a share and revenue of C$666.7 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
$1=$0.99 Canadian Reporting by Susan Taylor; editing by Rob Wilson