WestJet profit drops as Alberta slowdown rolls on — but analysts expected even worse numbers

Canada's second-largest airline saw a sharp drop in its second-quarter profit, but still managed a better performance than analysts who cover the company were expecting.

Calgary-based WestJet Airlines Ltd. said Tuesday it earned $87.6 million, or $0.71 per share last quarter. That's a 38 per cent decline from the same period a year earlier, when the company earned $140.7 million, or $1.09 per share.

Analysts had been expected profit to come in at around 65 cents per share.

The company managed to steer through the turbulence underway in its biggest market — Alberta — by shifting its focus eastward to markets such as Toronto, where it hasn't historically been as prevalent.

WestJet suspended nearly a dozen daily flights in January from Alberta's airports after airlines operating in the oil-rich province started recording a significant decline in passenger traffic.

"Although we continue to feel the impact of economic weakness in Alberta, the fundamentals of our business remain strong," CEO Gregg Saretsky said. "We are seeing positive trends as a result of adjustments we have made to our schedules and the strategic initiatives we are undertaking."

The airline's load factor — a closely watched metric that tries to measure how full the planes are of paying passengers — ticked up half a percentage point to 82.1 per cent.

The airline flew 5,325,106 travellers during the quarter, an eight-per-cent increase from 4,914,579 flown during the same period a year ago.

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