Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Let me begin by thanking the members of the committee for inviting me to appear today to share ideas on how we can work together to support the transportation sector in Canada.
Also, I would like to congratulate the new shadow minister of transport, the member for Chilliwack-Hope, and welcome other new members of the committee.
WestJet is committed to Canada, not only as a key driver and people connector but also as an economic driver and employer. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions have created the greatest crisis our company and our sector have faced. Our recovery has been long and arduous, and the impacts of the pandemic are still being felt. We’re not out of the woods. We’re still facing the effects of this crisis, including significantly increased costs of doing business, such as the cost of aviation fuel and other externalities.
Demand for travel has come surging back, and we’re doing our best to be responsible and transparent leaders, which is what our guests, our employees and indeed Parliament and government expect of us.
I'll give you some statistics to give you a sense of where we are as an organization. We currently fly more than 500 flights daily to and from 110 destinations, flying more than 50,000 guests per day. This is down from approximately 700 daily flights before the pandemic.
There’s been tremendous change in our labour situation, and we've seen the greatest pace of hiring we’ve ever seen, with more than a thousand new or returned staff in the past year, including 500 pilots, 500 cabin crew and 230 contact centre agents. We currently sit at just shy of 10,000 employees. Prepandemic, we had approximately 15,000 employees.
Unfortunately, the instability caused by an accordion of changing health measures and shutdowns saw many talented, long-term employees vacate our industry. This has been true of the entire travel and tourism sector, and WestJet has not been immune.
The crisis in our airports this summer brought home many key issues and priorities for everyone. We want to thank our guests for their support and their patience while we ironed out issues that negatively impacted their travel, issues that were of our own making.
Last summer we saw how complex it is to provide reliable travel for Canadians, as it involves the efforts of multiple agencies and skills.
While many provide services to the air traveller, it is increasingly the case that airlines bear the brunt both financially and publicly for system failures.
I do want to give credit to Minister of Transportation Omar Alghabra for working to bring all players to the table during this crisis to find solutions and for doing it in the Canadian way. We just have to look at the public fighting and arguments that happened in other nations. Those didn’t happen here, and that’s a testament to everyone involved and to his leadership.
At WestJet, we’re committed to acting responsibly in an incredibly challenging environment so we can keep doing what we love—serving Canadians. We were able to get through this difficult spring and emerge as the leading major carrier in Canada and as one of the best in North America.
Transparency is important for our people and our business. I'm happy to share with the committee that this summer we completed 98.9% of flights, with 64.7% of those arriving within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival time, all thanks to the performance of our incredible people.
Earlier this month, WestJet took steps to address the issues we face by signing a memorandum of understanding with the Government of Alberta. It includes investments in labour market training programs, pilot training, addressing the punitive costs of aviation jet fuel and building our visitor economy. This agreement reflects the fact that while aviation is federally regulated, it is critical to the provincial and municipal governments that are so reliant on our investments.
In June we announced our new strategic plan, which will see us grow in a stronger and sustainable way, working with communities and stakeholders across the country as we transition our investments in central and eastern Canada into more east-west flying and sun flying. In the west we have consolidated our 787 Dreamliners in Calgary and will expand all market segments.
These investments are critical at a time when we’re seeing demand for travel surging back. We need planes to deliver for Canada, and our purchase of 42 737-10 aircraft will not only help us recover but is also great news for our aerospace sector and the companies and workers who build, repair and maintain these aircraft.
Finally, our partnership with Sunwing will be of interest to committee members, and it is entering the next phase of government approvals. Our two complementary businesses will serve Canadians well.
As we emerge from this crisis, we believe that Canada must have greater shared accountability in the traveller journey, and what our sector needs most especially from government is stability and transparency as part of that shared accountability, including clear criteria and metrics for any future restrictions.
Finally, I also want to acknowledge and thank our pilots and say how great it is to be here with my friend Captain Tim Perry, who is representing ALPA and our valued pilot group at WestJet.
Thank you very much.