April 6, 2009 / 3:18 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 1-WestJet says planes flew less full in March

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CALGARY, Alberta, April 6 (Reuters) - WestJet Airlines Ltd (WJA.TO) said on Monday its planes flew less full in March as rising capacity outstripped gains in the number of paying passengers.

The company, Canada’s No. 2 airline, said its load factor last month, a measure of how well it filled its planes, dropped 4.7 percentage points to 81.9 percent, down from 86.6 percent in March, 2008.

The airline said it garnered 0.6 percent more revenue passenger miles last month, as the measure of passengers flown climbed to 1.25 billion from 1.24 billion.

However the passenger gains were outstripped by rising capacity as WestJet added new aircraft over the 12-month period. The company’s capacity, measured in available seat miles, climbed 6.3 percent to 1.52 billion from 1.43 billion.

“In addition to a slowing economy, the March numbers were impacted by Easter falling in April this year versus March last year,” Cameron Doerksen, an analyst at Versant Partners, said in a note, reiterating a “buy” rating on the company’s shares.

Air Canada ACa.TO , Canada’s largest airline, on Friday that its load factor last month fell 1.8 percent to 81.8 percent from the year-prior month, despite big cuts to capacity, as the recession cut revenue passenger miles by 13.1 percent, mostly because of big drops in its U.S. transborder and international traffic.

WestJet, which operates primarily within Canada, said on Monday it expects its first-quarter revenue per available miles, a profitability measure, to down 10 to 12 percent from the same period last year, as the weak economy spurs lower fares.

WestJet shares, down 35 percent over the past 12 months, fell 30 Canadian cents to C$11.95 midmorning on the Toronto Stock Exchange. ($1=$1.24 Canadian) (Reporting by Scott Haggett; Editing by Frank McGurty)

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