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Analyst says Saretsky good choice for WestJet CEO

March 16, 2010, Calgary - WestJet Airlines Ltd. plans to expand its code-share deals with European and U.S. airlines to broaden its international markets, the discount carrier's newly appointed incoming chief executive said Tuesday.


March 16, 2010
By The Canadian Press

Gregg Saretsky said the company has agreements to co-operate with European and U.S. carriers to grow its markets and there will be more of those code share deals under his watch.

"Our goal is to have good coverage on all continents,'' Saretsky told a news conference, a day after the surprising resignation of Sean Durfy as president and CEO, effective April 1.

Airlines all over the world are "beating a trail to our door,'' he added.

"We're going to be pretty choosy. We're going to pick those that have the same service culture and reputation.''

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Meanwhile, an industry analyst said the company will likely stick to its current course for the first year Saretsky is in charge.

"I think it will be a pretty seamless transition over to Saretsky,'' said Rick Erickson.

The Calgary-based budget carrier announced late Monday that its current CEO, Sean Durfy, would step down April 1 for personal reasons and that Saretsky, the vice-president of operations, would take the helm.

The announcement came as a surprise and raised speculation that Durfy was replaced because of the airline's recent financial performance and operational problems.

Looking ahead, Erickson said he expects business as normal for WestJet for the next year or so.

"I don't think we'll see much over the next full year. I don't think there will be virtually any change from the direction that WestJet has already carved out for itself.''

Hiring Saretsky in June 2009 to head up WestJet's vacations business was a "sage investment'' on the airline's part, because of his managerial experience at now-defunct Canadian Airlines and later at Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, Erickson said. Saretsky took charge of WestJet's operations in October.

While no big changes may be immediately on the horizon, Erickson sees Saretsky spearheading WestJet's entry into the transcontinental market in the longer term.

"In the meantime, he's caretaking a very, very well maintained ship that's on a steady bearing,'' he said.

There has been speculation Durfy was pushed out because of the company's lacklustre fourth-quarter results and a rocky startup of a new reservation system this fall.

Erickson said he was "dismayed'' by those reports.

"This one I'll take absolutely at face value that Mr. Durfy's leaving for personal family reasons,'' Erickson said.

"It's obviously a personal call that he's made. He's got young children. I gather he feels his resources are much better spent looking after those affairs.''

The fact that Durfy will aid in the transition until September indicates there was no "coup'' involved, Erickson added.

Durfy joined WestJet in 2004 as the executive in charge of marketing, sales and airport operations. He became president in September 2006 and chief executive a year later.

During his tenure, WestJet established the company's vacations business to the U.S. Sunny South, the new reservations system, partnerships with other airlines and new rewards programs.

"I think WestJet is on a very, very steady course right now and by and large has been well positioned to take advantage of whatever the Canadian economy has to offer going forward,'' Erickson said. "I would give Durfy his share of credit for that.''

WestJet has grown rapidly in recent years and now provides flights to 55 destinations in Canada, the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean with a fleet of 77 Boeing 737 aircraft. The company employed nearly 7,500 people at the end of 2008.