* WestJet Load factor down 3.6 points
* Air Canada down 1.3 points
* WestJet uses some cash to buy out aircraft lease (Adds Air Canada load data)
VANCOUVER, British Columbia, July 6 (Reuters) - Canada’s two largest airlines, WestJet Airlines Ltd WJA.TO and Air Canada ACa.TO said on Monday their planes flew less full in June amid a recession-driven slowdown in air travel.
WestJet said its load factor, the percentage of available seats that are filled with paying passengers, fell to 72.9 percent in June from 76.5 percent in the same month last year.
Demand for air travel, measured in revenue passenger miles, decreased 7.1 percent year-over-year to 1.03 billion, while capacity, measured in available seat miles, declined 2.5 percent over the same period to 1.41 billion.
“We anticipate second-quarter revenue per available seat mile to be in line with our original expectations of a second-quarter year-over-year decline of 16 to 18 per cent,” WestJet President and Chief Executive Sean Durfy said.
Air Canada, the No. 1 carrier, said its load factor of 80.9 percent on a consolidated basis with its Jazz regional unit was down from the 82.2 percent it had a year ago. Load on mainline flights was 82.2 percent compared with 83.1 percent in June 2008.
System traffic decreased 9.1 percent on a capacity reduction of 7.6 percent system wide, Air Canada said.
The June load factor for WestJet was a little below his forecast, Versant Partners analyst Cameron Doerksen said but he remained optimistic on the outlook for the carrier.
“We believe that investors will look beyond the near-term revenue challenges facing the company and that the stock will rebound as an economic recovery takes hold,” Doerksen said in a note to clients.
He has a “buy” recommendation on WestJet’s stock, with a one-year target price of C$15.
WestJet’s shares were down 35 Canadian cents at C$10.45 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Monday afternoon, in line with an overall weaker market.
The Calgary, Alberta-based airline also said it had bought out the lease of an 800-series aircraft that it took delivery of in early 2009.
Durfy said it was a good use of some of the airline’s cash, which was not enjoying high returns in the current low interest rate environment. (Reporting by Nicole Mordant, Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson)