Canada-based WestJet will become the country’s latest freighter operator when it introduces the 737-800F platform next year, stepping away from a total reliance on belly capacity.
The carrier told Cargo Facts that it plans to grow its freighter fleet to four 737-800BCFs throughout 2022, with the first entering service by the second quarter.
WestJet, which combined with subsidiary Swoop has over forty 737-800s in its fleet, said that it will source the freighters from a lessor, but declined to identify the lessor or the aircraft at this stage. The airline’s current oldest 737-800s are several 2005-vintage units — considered by lessors and operators at a recent Cargo Facts EMEA panel to be within the “sweet spot” for conversion.
Lessors currently with known 737-800BCF conversion orders include GECAS, BBAM, AviaAM Leasing and Aircraft Finance Germany.
WestJet told Cargo Facts that, since the pandemic, its cargo business has seen the demand for its freight services increase by 40-50%, but waited a year before launching dedicated freighters “to ensure the longevity of this demand.” According to the WestJet Cargo team, “the strong demand in this market is here to stay, coupled with a great need for competitive pricing and choice” — something to which WestJet hopes to make a meaningful contribution.
The 737-800BCFs will likely operate domestically, at least initially, but WestJet said the aircraft provide the flexibility for potential transborder operations. The carrier declined to comment on the possibility of ACMI or CMI arrangements for now, but said that, as it expands, it is open to the diversity of opportunities the cargo market offers.
Apart from WestJet, Canada’s freighter fleet is set to grow elsewhere. Air Canada will receive its first of two 767-300BDSFs (24306 and 24307) on lease from Cargo Aircraft Management later this year and has hinted at taking more, while Cargojet, which will begin operating two 767-300BDSFs (25363 and 25576, both ex-WestJet) on a CMI basis for Amazon later this year, recently added another 757-200PCF (29594, ex-American Airlines) and will also add at least two 777-300ERSFs and five 767Fs in the next few years.
Meanwhile, Air North recently acquired its first full freighter, an ATR 42-300F (273, ex-FedEx) that it plans to put into service later this year.
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