News provided by Saskatoon StarPhoenix
West Wind’s plan includes a major expansion, beginning with the addition of more flights between Saskatoon and Regina, and the possibility of a fleet expansion
Alex MacPherson, Saskatoon StarPhoenix November 22, 2018
Saskatchewan’s largest airline is making sweeping changes to its organizational structure and operations.
West Wind’s new chief executive officer said the changes are part of an attempt at reinvention after an extremely difficult year.
The plan includes a major expansion, beginning with the addition of more “briefcase and suits” flights between Saskatoon and Regina, and the possibility of a fleet expansion, Michael Rodyniuk said Wednesday.
It also includes “wholesale” changes in the airline’s Saskatoon offices. Multiple executives have “departed” and three new ones — including a veteran military pilot — have been installed, said Rodyniuk, who took over as CEO last month.
“Our expectation is the excellence established at the airline by the founders is exactly what we’re going to go back to,” said Rodyniuk, who came to the Saskatoon-based airline group from his previous role as head of Ontario’s Wasaya Airways.
“This is exactly what (the board) asked us to do: Fix the operations, ensure that the core of our business is solid. So I’ve got a three-step plan basically: Solidify the base, fortify the base and then we’re going to expand.”
West Wind’s fleet of regional airliners spent almost half of last year on the ground after the company’s air operator certificate was suspended following a fatal crash near the Fond du Lac airport late last year. The certificate was reinstated in May.
All 25 people on board were injured in the Dec. 13 crash; 19-year-old Arson Fern Jr. died two weeks later. The Transportation Safety Board has not issued its final report, but the agency has made clear the aircraft took off “contaminated” with ice.
Rodyniuk said one of the first things he did after taking over as the airline’s chief executive officer was to meet with victims of the crash for “heart-wrenching” conversations.
“It’s awful; it’s absolutely awful. That alone gives us the motivation to ensure that we are the safest airline that we possibly can be. This airline is radically different from what it was just a month ago, and compared to a year ago it’s a very different environment,” he said.
Attempts to reach Fern’s parents were unsuccessful but Sabrina Fern, whose now-17-year-old son Lyman was aboard the plane, said she was impressed by Rodyniuk’s commitment to the community where air travel is a necessity rather than a luxury.
Rodyniuk, she said, has been more supportive than previous West Wind executives, and was quick to share his personal contact information with survivors and their families at a dinner this fall. She recalled him saying, “I’m a call away, whatever you guys need.”
“That’s that attitude that we need from people like him, who we depend on for our flights in and out of our community,” she said.
Now, the Calgary-born airline executive is overseeing the early stages of an expansion that he hopes will see the 35-year-old airline become a viable and visible alternative for business commuters, reaching destinations in Alberta, Manitoba and the U.S.
This week, the company began flying its 19-seat Beechcraft 1900Ds three times daily, five days a week between Saskatoon and Regina. Previously, the airline flew the route twice a day, three times week. The demand “seems to be there,” Rodyniuk said.
“We’ve got seven Beech 1900s, and our fleet right now is under-utilized,” he said, referring to excess capacity stemming from a slowdown in charter flights to uranium facilities in the province’s far north, three of which have been temporarily closed in recent years.
“What I want to do is put the fleet to work and start new initiatives, not just between Regina and Saskatoon,” he said, adding that West Wind could in the coming years fly to points “north, south, east and west” of Saskatchewan.
West Wind currently flies only in Saskatchewan, to communities such as Prince Albert, La Ronge, Fond du Lac and Uranium City.
The airline is also looking at purchasing, through its subsidiary Transwest Air, additional Saab 340s, which Rodyniuk said can be converted to carry extra cargo in addition to passengers, to meet growing demand for fresh food deliveries in remote communities.
While there are challenges — chief among them “unmanageable” items such as volatile fuel prices and the pilot retention difficulties facing all regional carriers — Rodyniuk said he is optimistic about the business’s newly filed flight plan.
“We’ll be looking for those opportunities and putting the aircraft, the assets, right where we need them to get the greatest return.”