The Lethbridge County Airport may soon be in line for an upgrade and local travellers may stand to benefit. Lethbridge MP Jim Hillyer, on behalf of Denis Lebel, federal minister of transport, infrastructure and communities, and Lethbridge County Reeve Lorne Hickey will be on hand for a Government of Canada funding announcement at the airport this morning.
Details of what the expected funds may be used for are still unknown, but speculation continues to grow about the possibility of WestJet's new low-cost regional carrier Encore adding Lethbridge as one of its destinations.
The airline will officially reveal the initial routes next month, says Robert Palmer, WestJet's manager of public relations.
"We are making the announcement sometime in February via news release," he said. "No firm date has been set."
The Lethbridge County Airport is one of 32 across the country whose staff lobbied WestJet last June after initial plans for a regional carrier to serve smaller communities was hinted at in February 2012.
In 2011, the Lethbridge County Airport launched a Facebook page called 'Take Off YQL' and said they were in talks with several airlines in an effort to offer more routes and options for travellers in southern Alberta.
Calls by The Herald to Hickey and Scott Butchart, Lethbridge County Airport manager, seeking comment hadn't been returned as of press time.
WestJet has said the goal for Encore is to have a cost structure roughly 20 per cent to 25 per cent lower than similar airlines, including Air Canada's Express service, with a tentative launch date of mid-June.
Its fleet will include up to 45 fuel-efficient Bombardier Q400s, which would contribute to the potential cost savings.
If WestJet does announce Lethbridge as new destination, there would be plenty of positive effects, says Geoffrey Hale, a political science professor at the University of Lethbridge who is preparing to conduct an in-depth study on the factors contributing to cross-border airline competition.
"If they can get the price of a flight significantly closer to the cost of driving and parking, that would certainly improve the competitiveness of Lethbridge Airport," he said.
WestJet, which was founded in 1996 in Calgary, currently serves 81 destinations and is the ninth-largest airline in North America by passengers.