Air Canada CEO Reports Soaring Growth

Air Canada will continue to add flights into the roaring Alberta economy and may still find a way to overturn a controversial decision to cancel its direct flight from St. John's, N.L., to England, the airline's president and CEO said Wednesday.

Speaking to a business crowd in the hometown of rival WestJet Airlines, Air Canada CEO Monte Brewer said continued growth in Alberta was inevitable.

''We tend to try and grow as fast as the marketplace grows, and the market here is growing very fast,'' Brewer said.

Prior to his speech, Air Canada unveiled plans to start daily non-stop flights from Calgary to Palm Springs, Calif., starting in November.

Late last week, Canada's largest airline said it would begin flying from Calgary to New York as well as direct routes between Toronto and the oilsands hub of Fort McMurray, Alta.

Brewer also said that as Air Canada begins to finalize its schedule for next winter, additional flights to Alberta were likely.

With nearly 100 flights each weekday, Air Canada offers ''almost half'' of the scheduled flights out of Calgary, even though it is home to WestJet's headquarters and western hub, Brewer told the city's chamber of commerce,

Brewer also defended Air Canada's decision to cancel the direct flight from St. John's to London's Heathrow airport this fall. He said most of the customers on the flight were from Halifax and it was ''very un-customer friendly'' to make them unload, go through customs and then get back on the flight for Nova Scotia.

But he said the airline was also looking at the possibility of flying a narrow-body aircraft on that route, but navigational requirements of flying overseas in a smaller plane as well as landing space at Heathrow still need to be sorted out.

St. John's Mayor Andy Wells vented his frustration earlier this week about the cancellation of the flight.

''The people of this province who use this route are fed up with Air Canada, fed up with the arrogance and utter insensitivity of you and other executives who are in charge of this company,'' Wells stated in a letter sent Tuesday to Brewer.

After Sept. 4, travellers from Newfoundland wanting to connect with Europe will first have to fly to Halifax.

Brewer said Wednesday that each route that Air Canada flies has to be economical, given the high fuel prices and cost pressures that it faces.

''We want every community we serve to grow, because that's how we grow ourselves.''

Air Canada is also looking at ways of making Canadian air travel more flexible. And Brewer said Wednesday that the airline was looking at adding new products like its recent multi-trip flight pass specifically tailored to meet the travel needs of oilpatch workers in northern Alberta.

Brewer also renewed the airline's lobbying efforts to get rent relief for Canada's airports from Ottawa. And he said that less money paid in airport rent would likely help the consumer in the form of more flights, for less cost.

''In just 10 days, the federal government will reduce the GST by a percentage point,'' said Brewer.

''Tax relief is on the agenda and I can't think of a better time or a better place to advance then notion of rent relief for Canada's airports.''

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