Air Canada, WestJet report strong growth in November passenger demand

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Canada's two largest airlines reported strong monthly demand in November as they flew fuller planes and more travellers took to the air.

Air Canada (TSX:AC.B) said its load factor grew 2.2 percentage points to 78.1 per cent as passenger traffic including its regional partners increased 4.6 per cent. Capacity increased 1.7 per cent.

Meanwhile, WestJet Airlines Ltd. saw its planes fly 82.6 per cent full in the month, up from 77.6 per cent a year ago, and reported passenger traffic increased 8.3 per cent.

Capacity at the Calgary-based airline increased 1.7 per cent.

WestJet chief executive Gregg Saretsky said November's load factor beat the previous record for the month set in 2010 by 4.9 percentage points.

"Our airline partnership strategy and growing number of business travellers are contributing to our positive momentum," he stated.

Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu said his airline's November's load factor was the second highest ever for the month.

Traffic gains at Air Canada were helped by a 6.9 per cent boost in Asia Pacific and seven per cent gain in Australia, Caribbean, Mexico and Central and South America markets.

Flights within Canada flew 83.5 per cent full, an increase of three percentage points as traffic grew by four per cent with a 0.3 per cent increase in capacity. The load factor for transborder flights increased 1.2 percentage points to 75.7 per cent as traffic grew 2.9 per cent amid a 1.3 per cent increase in capacity.

"These strong results underscore the effectiveness of our disciplined capacity management and our award winning product," he said in a statement.

Cameron Doerksen of National Bank Financial said WestJet's traffic numbers were a clear indication of healthy air travel demand.

"The fourth quarter is shaping up nicely," he wrote in a report, adding that his weekly surveys shows that airfare pricing in the domestic Canadian market remains strong.

"With this most recent record month, WestJet is on pace to exceed our 80.5 per cent load factor forecast for the fourth quarter."

Doerksen said the November numbers support his forecast of a 5.4 per cent increase in fourth-quarter revenue per available seat mile.

Meanwhile, Porter Airlines said its planes flew 54.5 per cent full in November, a decrease from 65.9 per cent a year ago.

Traffic for the regional airline decreased 11.9 per cent on a 6.7 per cent boost in capacity.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, WestJet's shares closed up 51 cents, or 2.63 per cent, to $19.87 in Wednesday trading. Air Canada shares closed down two cents to $1.78.