WestJet CEO addresses Chamber of Commerce, becomes Oilers fan

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When WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech delivered his first annual address to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, he likely didn’t expect to leave the city as an honourary Edmonton Oilers fan.

Von Hoensbroech was in town to speak the Royal Glenora Club updating the business community on WestJet’s operations in the capital. His address to the Chamber was the first in what he said would be an annual meeting going forward, highlighting Edmonton’s importance to the airline’s plans.

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Westjet opened a base of operations in Edmonton shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, WestJet has doubled its employees in the city from roughly 200 to more than 500 people. von Hoensbroech said that Edmonton was “critical” to WestJet’s strategy, which includes trying to serve the western Canadian market better as the airline currently feels that it is underserved.

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WestJet highlighted its additional connectivity to Minneapolis and Atlanta, and fulfilling the long-standing request to have consistent direct flights between Edmonton, Ottawa, and Montreal as key areas that will help serve the Edmonton market better.

While the airline may feel that western Canadians have been underserved, Edmontonian flyers have shown a marked preference for WestJet, which consists of about half the traffic at the Edmonton International Airport — the strongest connectivity outside of Calgary, where WestJet’s main base is located. Still, von Hoensbroech said that there’s more room for improvement, which he explained while speaking to reporters.

“It’s all about adding, either adding new routes or adding more flights on the same route,” said von Hoensbroech.

Edmonton International Airport CEO and President, Myron Keehn, said that the airport has the capacity to take on the extra flights that WestJet is seeking to bring. The airport served 7.5 million people last year, but Keehn said it can handle even more.

“I can safely say that we can double the capacity through the existing facilities without adding infrastructure,” said Keehn, adding that the extra numbers would need to be supported with strong partnerships and innovation to make for a seamless flyer experience.

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While introducing von Hoensbroech to the audience, Keehn gifted him with a Leon Draisaitl Edmonton Oilers jersey, which prompted the WestJet executive to tell a personal story. Having grown up in Cologne, Germany, von Hoensbroech recalled that in 1994 when Cologne won the German hockey championships, Leon’s father, Peter Draisaitl, played as a centre for championship-winning team, connecting him to the German superstar in a small way.

With WestJet’s headquarters set in Calgary, von Hoensbroech said he’s often been asked which of the two Alberta teams he supports but the executive has always had a “tough” time answering. With his new jersey in hand, he offered that the decision had perhaps been made.

“So, I’m an Oilers fan,” he said with a laugh to cheers from the audience.

Chamber of Commerce CEO and President, Doug Griffiths, said the ongoing meetings with WestJet and the chamber were an important signal to the possibility of further economic growth in Edmonton.

“These ongoing meetings every year will help make sure that we’re in sync to grow the economy the way we should,” said Griffiths.

With more chances to connect Edmonton with the rest of the world, Griffiths felt the move will unlock prospects both bringing more outside businesses to Edmonton, and bring Edmonton businesses to the world.

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