An Albertan alternative
Talking at the Tiaca gathering to Kirsten de Bruijn, WestJet Cargo’s EVP. Dutchwoman Kirsten de Bruijn knows and loves Miami, having already worked there for eight years – first in the hotel segment, then in airfreight. After postings to the Middle East she has now headed the development of Calgary-based WestJet Cargo since May.
When we spoke (online) last year you were still at Qatar Airways Cargo, Ms de Bruijn. What do you like about your new job?
I had a great time in Qatar, but what I get to do now is completely different. WestJet is backed by a private equity fund, and breathes the start-up spirit. I have the opportunity to shape our cargo business from the ground up here, which is very exciting.
The climate in Calgary is certainly very different from that in Doha or Dubai. Now I can go out into the beautiful countryside in Alberta – something I haven’t been able to do much in the last seven years.
Let’s talk about the business climate in Canada. The country already has several established airfreight providers – for example Cargojet and Air Canada Cargo. What place do you see for WestJet?
Canada is huge, and you can’t just move cargo by road from Vancouver to Toronto, for example, at the drop of a hat. In addition, there is one circumstance that I haven’t experienced anywhere else, namely the customer profile. Half of our bookings come directly from customers.
“WestJet has the potential to successfully fill niches”
What you say is true – we have an airline that links Canada internationally, and another one that targets the integrators. But WestJet has the potential to successfully fill niches.
What do you think will be your trumps to start off with?
We’re only in the starting blocks, but technology will play an important role. We’ve featured on the Smartkargo platform since early November, for example, which simplifies booking processes.
People are also essential. We want to bring a breath of fresh air into the airfreight business. Of course, we have to show what we’re capable of with the freighters we’re set to operate from March next year.
But one of my most important tasks since my arrival is to roll out a cargo culture throughout the company. We want to become a small and therefore agile alternative to the legacy carriers.
Which of your previous personal experiences are particularly useful for this?
I started in procurement at Martinair in 2007. I then specialised in ground handling there, as well as at Emirates SkyCargo (2016–2020) and Qatar Airways Cargo. Thereafter I fulfilled roles in operations, revenue management, pricing and sales.
I think that if you’re going to successfully build an airline from the ground up, then you need to know all this.
“We offer six full-freighter destinations.”
How do you think things will go initially?
We serve no less than 45 destinations with belly options; we’ll initially fly four Boeing B737-800BCFs to Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax, as well as to Miami and Los Angeles.
I’m working on our strategic development, but if you look at WestJet’s history, then you’ll see that we’re actually something of a sleeping giant. Our 170 aircraft make us the second-largest airline in Canada.
Do you want to raise your profile by offering your customers trans-Atlantic flights?
Our planes don’t have ‘etops’ yet, but that could change soon. For the moment we’ll simply stay focused on Canada, however.