By Rodmehr Filizadeh ’25
Canada’s second largest airline, WestJet, is currently in the process of modernizing its fleet. Unfortunately, they may have overlooked some consequences of their changing fleet composition.
Recently, WestJet has begun to retire their older Boeing 737-700 planes to avoid renewing leases and because they are economically inefficient. Throughout 2020 and 2021, WestJet also retired all their 737-600s from their fleet. Both removals were to modernize and move to larger, modern, narrow-bodied aircraft, but the aircraft are the root of a potentially major issue for the company. The issue with WestJet’s fleet is that it has two aircraft with wildly different capacities.
WestJet’s domestic fleet is comprised of two types of aircraft: the De Havilland Dash 8-400, which is a regional airplane, and the Boeing 737, which serves all of WestJet’s other domestic flights. The newer variants of the 737 that WestJet uses are the 737-800/MAX 8s. These planes have a capacity of around 174 seats.
As WestJet continues to remove 737-700s from their fleet, they will incur a rapidly growing gap in passenger capacity between the newer 737-800/MAX 8 aircraft and the old Dash 8-400s, which only have a capacity of 78. That is a gap of 96 seats. The 737-600 and 737-700 aircrafts WestJet retired carried 112 and 130 passengers, respectively.
Unlike in the United States, not all Canadian routes can fill a 737-800/MAX 8, but many would still have greater demand than a single Dash 8-400 could supply. This means WestJet will incur greater fuel costs per passenger because they may fly a partially empty aircraft or need to allocate multiple smaller aircraft to a single route.
While the problem is exacerbated when we consider that WestJet is retiring more Dash 8-400s, WestJet did try to rectify the situation by ordering some of the smallest variants of the new generation MAX aircraft, the 737 MAX 7s. However, WestJet has not received any of these, and there’s been no mention of the order, which may indicate the order changed to request different MAX variants. The MAX 7 would not be a direct fix either, as it seats 142 seats, placing it closer to the 737-800s/MAX 8s than the retiring Dash 8-400s.
WestJet’s order of 737 MAX 10 aircraft which seat over 200 people indicates they are unwilling to move away from the 737s that make up all their domestic fleet outside the regional Dash 8. Furthermore, WestJet’s problem puts them further behind the already dominant Air Canada, whose much larger fleet includes the Airbus A220, an aircraft that would solve WestJet’s problem as it seats 125 people. Evidently, there is almost certainly still a place for a plane smaller than the 737 that WestJet so loyally has built its fleet with.
Photo credit: WestJet