December 3, 2008 / 10:59 PM / in 9 years

Canada's two major airlines say planes more crowded

CALGARY, Alberta, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Canada’s two major airlines said on Wednesday their planes bigger passenger loads last month, despite economic turmoil.

Both Air Canada ACa.TO and smaller rival WestJet Airlines Ltd WJA.TO said their November load factors, a measure of space on their planes filled by paying passengers, rose to a record for the month.

However the two carriers fortunes improved for different reasons, with Air Canada benefiting from cutbacks while WestJet’s traffic strengthened.

Air Canada said its November load factor climbed 2.4 percentage points from a year earlier to 78.5 percent as it followed through on capacity cuts announced earlier this year to cope with high fuel prices and a weakening economy.

The airline said its revenue passenger miles, a traffic measure, fell 4.4 percent from a year earlier, to 2.93 billion.

However capacity, which shows how much space it has available, dropped even more, falling 7.3 percent to 3.73 billion available seat miles.

Air Canada’s regional affiliate Jazz Air JAZ_u.TO reported a 2.6 percent drop in its November load factor as revenue passenger miles fell 12.7 percent to 288 million, while capacity was shaved by 9.4 percent to 414 million available seat miles.

WESTJET RISES

WestJet, which, unlike Air Canada, operates mostly in the domestic market, said its passenger traffic rose in November even as it boosted capacity.

The airline said its November load factor climbed 0.5 percentage points from the same month in 2007 to 76.1 percent.

Despite the slowing economy, WestJet’s revenue passenger miles climbed 14 percent to 1.06 billion, while capacity rose 14 percent to 1.39 billion available seat miles.

The carrier’s ticket prices are also holding firm, as the company said its revenue per available seat mile is comparable to its performance in the fourth quarter of last year.

Air Canada’s class A shares fell 6 Canadian cents to C$1.94 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Wednesday, a drop of 84 percent over 12 months.

WestJet shares rose 6 Canadian cents to C$8.90. They are down 58 percent in the past year. ($1=$1.25 Canadian) (Reporting by Scott Haggett; editing by Rob Wilson)

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