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Fort St. John making "very good case" to WestJet

Representatives from Fort St. John are in Calgary today to take part in WestJet's regional day, where approximately 30 communities are making their case to try and get the airline to service their community. The Energetic City made its bid this morning, and as Fort St. John and District Chamber of Commerce President Brent Hodson believes their turn went very well.

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"If you see what's happening in Fort St. John and the northeast, WestJet sees it as well. They see the growth that's happening, they see the projects that are coming our way, they realize that Fort St. John and the northeast has an economy that is growing, our population is expected to double in the next 5 to 10 years, so they see that it's a viable place for their airline to be."

Included in the presentation was a four minute video with a Rick Mercer-style rant by Mayor Lori Ackerman, who couldn't make the trip to Calgary for personal reasons, and several clips of community groups chanting the campaign slogan "It Just Makes Sense". Hodson says they were glad John MacLeod, Vice-President of Network Management and Alliances for WestJet, was leading the company's side of the presentation.

"He was the one who actually told Mayor Ackerman last year that it just makes sense for WestJet to be in Fort St. John, so he laughed when we showed him the video because he's like, 'look what I started'," he jokes.

Because WestJet has already been following our community, Hodson argues that their presence at regional day simply helped cement what they already know about us.

"They've been looking at Fort St. John and us being here just reaffirms that Fort St. John and WestJet would be a good fit together."

He adds that the two sides also agreed on matters like routes, determining that Calgary would be the ideal location to fly in and out from, based on surveys done here, and numbers the airline has.

Later today the team, which also includes City Councillors Gord Klassen and Trevor Bolin as well as Tourism Fort St. John board member Darren Thomson, will get a chance to see one of the Q400 Bombardier planes WestJet has selected for its new regional service. It's a propeller aircraft that has sound deafening technology, can reach a top speed of 666 kilometres per hour, and a top travelling distance of over 1,800 kilometres. Judging from presentations made yesterday and this morning, Hodson says the aircraft would be a good fit for our airport.

"This plane would be ideal for Fort St. John to fly to Edmonton, Calgary or Vancouver because it could reach those distances."

As part of Fort St. John's WestJet campaign, residents have been emailing, tweeting and writing on the company's Facebook page, to show their support. Although he couldn't speak specifically about Fort St. John, WestJet spokesperson Robert Palmer says the company is "thrilled and flattered" by all the messages they've been receiving.

"It's certainly great to see the enthusiasm," he says. "It lets us know the community is solidly behind the bid, and it really does help."

Although the support is important, Palmer says it's important to remember that the decision will all come down to whether it really makes sense.

"At the end of the day, of course, the economics have to work," he explains. "We have to be flying to a place that can demonstrate that they can sustain the service. People have to be able to ensure the service is going to be used a lot and that it can be sustained over a long period of time."

WestJet expects to be making a decision on whether their regional airline will begin in the east or the west of Canada by January of 2013, starting with two to three routes. Nine to twelve months after that they will expand, and over the next two to five years roll out the full regional airline.