Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet announced an order for up to 20 Boeing 787 “Dreamliners” that could allow the airline to dramatically expand its global footprint.

WestJet’s deal, announced Tuesday, includes a firm commitment for 10 Boeing 787-9 jets and options for 10 more. The first 10 787s would arrive to the airline beginning in early 2019 with all 10 expected to be in the WestJet fleet by the end of 2021.

The Dreamliner, the latest aircraft model from Boeing, is a new-age jet made mostly from composite materials. Designed for long-range flights, the mid-sized widebody jet capable of flying more than 8,500 miles.

“This order represents an exciting new chapter in WestJet’s history,” WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky said in a statement. “Now, with the most sophisticated commercial airliner available, we turn our attention to further growing our international presence.”

Indeed, the Tuesday deal signals a growing ambition for WestJet. The Calgary-based company launched just 21 years ago and began with a fleet of all Boeing 737 jets, an attempt to emulate the successful business model used to great success by U.S. low-cost carrier Southwest.

ARCHIVESCEO says WestJet ‘bullish’ on widebody strategyBuoyed by new Boeing 767s, WestJet adds six routes to London GatwickWestJet now flying between Orlando and Vancouver

PHOTO TOUR: Behind the scenes at Boeing’s 787 factory in South Carolina (story continues below)


Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

However, WestJet has morphed from that simple single-plane strategy in recent years. In 2013, it launched WestJet Encore – a regional subsidiary that flies Bombardier Q400 tubroprop planes. The smaller aircraft allowed WestJet to expand its reach to smaller markets within Canada that likely couldn’t profitably support service on larger 737s.

In 2015, WestJet began flying older Boeing 767 jets on routes to Europe and Hawaii. Beyond that, the airline also has used its Boeing 737s to add international service on some short trans-Atlantic routes between eastern Canada and the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Most recently, WestJet announced plans for another new subsidiary – this time an “ultra low-cost carrier.” Such airlines are known for offering rock-bottom base fares but charging fees for nearly everything else, sometimes even for stowing carry-on bags in overhead storage…