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WestJet planes fuller in March despite fare hikes

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WestJet Airlines Ltd. (WJA-T) flew fuller planes in March even as it increased ticket prices in the face of a recent surge in oil prices, Canada's second biggest carrier said Tuesday.

WestJet said its traffic levels, measured in revenue passenger miles, rose 13.3 percent last month. At the same time, the airline increased its capacity, measured in available seat miles, by 12.1 percent.

Taken together, that boosted WestJet's load factor by 1 point to 84.8 percent in March.

"Thus far, we are pleased with the strength of consumer demand and the market's ability to absorb fare increases as we navigate through a period of elevated fuel costs," WestJet President and Chief Executive Gregg Saretsky said.

Oil prices have soared to near 2-1/2 year peaks on worries about supply disruptions because of unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. Jet fuel is generally an airline's biggest cost and has recently led carriers to raise fares.

Porter Airlines, Canada's third largest scheduled carrier, said its load factor dipped 0.6 points to 49.6 percent in March as passenger numbers did not quite keep pace with capacity increases.

Porter's capacity expanded 22.5 percent last month to 97.6 million available seat miles, while traffic increased 21 percent to 48.4 million revenue passenger miles.

"First-quarter numbers have improved and set a good foundation for further growth as peak seasons approach," Robert Deluce, Porter's president and CEO said.

"Combined with improved yield, we're pleased with the overall 2011 trend, based on current market conditions," he said in a statement.

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