Canadian discounter Swoop is so confident that leisure travelers will come back stronger this summer than they have to date during the pandemic that it has unveiled a deal to expand its fleet by 60 percent.
“We believe [strong] demand is signaling that Canadians are ready to reconnect with family and friends, and we anticipate a very strong summer,” said Bert van der Stege, head of commercial and finance at Swoop. And this is true even with the Omicron variant-driven slowdown in January and February, which he said is quickly giving way to a March and April rebound ahead of the peak summer period.
To meet demand, Swoop will add six Boeing 737-8s to its fleet by summer — a 60 percent increase to its fleet of 10 737-800s. The aircraft are leased and will be delivered directly from Boeing, and do not come from parent WestJet’s existing Max orderbook, said van der Stege. He declined to name the lessor. All of Swoop’s current fleet has come from WestJet.
WestJet had firm orders for 27 737 Maxes at the end of January, Boeing’s orders and deliveries data show.
Swoop is in good company with its outlook. Airline executives across North America and in Europe agree that summer demand looks rosy. Even as many carriers have pared back capacity during the Omicron peak, they continue to lay it on heavy this summer, either recovering to pre-pandemic levels or expanding above those levels.
But the buoyant expectations do not come without some concerns. Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary said in January that “being cautious is the sensible way forward” as the industry looks toward the summer. Though even with his words of caution, the Irish carrier plans a robust schedule this summer that is 15 percent larger than the one it flew three years ago before the pandemic.
Swoop is targeting domestic leisure demand with its additional aircraft. The airline will add five new destinations — Deer Lake, Charlottetown, Moncton, St. Johns, and St. John, all in Atlantic Canada — and 11 new routes to its map in May and June. Most of the routes connect the five new cities to Edmonton, Hamilton, Ontario, and Toronto Pearson.
But that’s “not all we’re going to want to do with the new aircraft,” said van der Stege. The airline will also beef up frequencies on a number of routes in western Canada, its home turf, to create a “more extensive domestic network.”
Swoop will fly 361 percent more capacity in the first quarter than it did a year ago — a number that is considerably higher thanks to the Canadian travel restrictions that limited its flying in 2021 — according to Cirium schedule data. The carrier will be 29 percent larger than it was in 2019 during the period.
The airline’s growth comes amid the rapid expansion of ultra low-cost carriers (ULCC) in Canada. The increasingly crowded sector includes Flair Airlines, which launched in 2020, as well as startups Jetlines and Lynx Air, which both hope to begin flights this year. In 2021, Flair was the largest of the set with a 5 percent share of seats in the Canadian domestic market compared to Swoop’s 3 percent share, Cirium data show.
“We believe with our investment announced today … we are well positioned to retain the market leadership in the ULCC segment,” said van der Stege. He did not comment directly on any of Swoop’s competitors.
Swoop does not plan to add more aircraft beyond the six new Maxes to its fleet in 2022. It will end the year with 16 737s.