March 5, 2008 / 4:13 PM / 10 years ago

Air Canada loads fall, WestJet at record

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - WestJet Airlines Inc (WJA.TO) said on Wednesday its planes flew fuller last month as it benefited from continuing strong demand, though larger rival Air Canada ACa.TO ACb.TO saw its loads drop as it added planes.

<p>In this file photo Clive Beddoe, chairman and chief executive of West Jet, addresses shareholders at the company's annual general meeting in Calgary, Alberta, May 1, 2007. WestJet Airlines Inc said on Wednesday its plans flew fuller last month as it benefited from continuing strong demand. REUTERS/Todd Koro</p>

WestJet said its February load factor, the proportion of aircraft seats filled by paying passengers, rose to 82.8 percent, half a percentage point higher than its results in the same month a year ago.

Air Canada, the biggest Canadian airline, said the load factor on its main system last month fell a half a percentage point to 79.5 percent.

The drop in the closely watched statistic came as a 5.6 percent rise in revenue passenger miles, to 3.47 billion, was more than offset by a 6.2 percent climb in available seat miles as new planes boosted the carrier’s fleet.

“With the recent deliveries of our eleventh Boeing 777 and 60th and last Embraer aircraft, we continue to grow our fleet,” Montie Brewer, Air Canada’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Consolidated results for Air Canada, which include its Jazz Air JAZ_u.TO regional affiliate, show a 0.4 percentage point drop in the load factor, to 79.2 percent. Consolidated revenue passenger miles climbed 5.8 percent, to 3.81 billion, while capacity rose 6.3 percent to 4.81 billion.

WestJet said February was the 14th-straight month that loads rose to record levels. Sean Durfy, the carrier’s chief executive, said in a statement that the factors behind the rise included “strong sales for WestJet Vacations (and) growing network connectivity.”

The airline’s capacity, measured in available seat miles, rose 18.2 percent from the same month a year earlier to 1.28 billion, while revenue passenger miles climbed 19 percent to 1.06 billion.

WestJet shares fell 13 Canadian cents to C$19.29 on Wednesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Air Canada’s A shares fell 27 Canadian cents to C$9.39.

($1=$0.98 Canadian)

Reporting by Scott Haggett; Editing by Rob Wilson

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