WestJet of Canada is expanding through code-share agreements, which could possibly include Emirates, a move that may help ease tensions with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) concerning air traffic rights.
The country's second largest carrier, which signed code-share deals with British Airways on December 9, 2010, and Cathay Pacific earlier this year (see story here), is planning tie ups with more big players.
Gregg Saretsky, chief executive officer of WestJet, said: “"There is a list of 70 carriers that have expressed an interest in WestJet. We’re working through that list in some priority," he said. "Emirates is one of those 70 on the list.”
He added that Emirates met the standards set for partners due to its “high quality brand name that people recognise.”
When asked to respond to WestJet's claims, the state-owned Emirates, however, denied being in any discussion with the Canadian airline.
Canada and the UAE have been locked in a five-year long dispute about traffic rights. The kingdom's two flagship carriers – Emirates and Etihad – have been lobbying without success for permission to increase flight frequencies to Toronto, as well as mount new services to Calgary and Vancouver.
The situation did not improve with Air Canada's recently expressing fears that allowing two UAE carriers to enter the Canadian aviation market would create fierce competition, resulting in poaching of passengers on its lucrative transatlantic routes.
The UAE retaliated by refusing to renew landing rights at an airbase near Dubai for Canadian military aircraft on their way to Afghanistan. It has also issued the new ruling that requires Canadian visitors to obtain a visa to enter the region from January 2, 2011.
A code-share agreement between WestJet and Emirates would be in the best interests of both countries, urged industry analysts. David Tyerman of Canaccord Genuity financial services firm, said: “It makes sense at this point in their evolution to look at partnerships like these.”