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Code sharing key to re-introduction of Helijet service



The airline industry has been on a roller coaster ride in recent years, but there is finally enough stability to allow scheduled flights to Whistler.

Last week, 11 years after first introducing scheduled service to Whistler, Helijet International resumed twice-daily flights between Vancouver International Airport and Whistler.

Daniel Sitnam, president and CEO of Helijet, said following the inaugural flight Dec. 5, it’s because of Helijet’s partnership with Alaska Airlines that the service has resumed.

"We’re pleased to join the community," Sitnam said. "We’re going to run two flights a day, seven days a week, in partnership with Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, their regional carrier. And that was very key for the service to come to life."

Helijet has a code sharing agreement with Seattle-based Alaska and Horizon.

"Really it’s an Alaska flight number that’s coming up here," Sitnam said. "Therefore it’s exposed through Alaska’s system and their reservation system. Anywhere that Alaska flies or any point that they serve, Whistler is now a destination on their system.

"So if you’re in L.A. or San Diego or Boston or Miami or any of these points, and you want to come to Whistler, (you) board Alaska Airlines from Boston to Vancouver and connect on to their partner from Vancouver Airport, Helijet, to get to Whistler. So the marketing was key in the partnership. That’s what the partnership brings is the strength of their marketing."

Sitnam said it was the lack of partnership with a major airline that forced an end to the original Vancouver-Whistler Helijet service 18 months after it was started in 1993.

"The key ingredient was having an airline relationship, which was intended to be with Canadian Airlines," Sitnam said. "Unfortunately things started happening at Canadian Airlines that didn’t allow that to come to fruition, and we said we couldn’t go it alone. We need the feed-carrier to help us market the program.

"With all the amalgamation and turmoil in the airline industry, and the Air Canada-Canadian thing, we had to just wait it out and see where things would settle into place. At the end of the day we thought Alaska Airlines was a relationship that made sense."

Sitnam said it’s the frequency of Alaska’s and Horizon’s flights from the Seattle area to Vancouver – more than 20 per day – that are key to the deal. Through the code sharing arrangement, Alaska and Horizon passengers landing at Vancouver International Airport can connect directly to Helijet for a 28-minute flight from the airport to Whistler’s heliport.

Whistler’s growth as a destination resort also played a part in the return of Helijet service, Sitnam said.

"I think (Whistler’s) really grown into a year-round resort and the numbers are showing that. That was important for any carrier to look at. As much as it could be a seasonal service, for consistency and economics and for the market, it makes sense to try to justify it on a year-round program," Sitnam said of the Helijet service.

Helijet, which Sitnam founded in 1986, is now the largest scheduled helicopter airline in North America. The company also has scheduled flights between Victoria and Seattle, Victoria and Vancouver, Victoria and the Fraser Valley, and the Fraser Valley and Vancouver.

The company will not be acquiring any additional aircraft for the Whistler route.

Flights depart Vancouver International Airport at 11:50 a.m. and 2:40 p.m. daily. Flights leave Whistler at 12:40 and 3:30 p.m. A one-way, full economy fare is $179 Cdn, plus taxes.

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