Air Canada to lay off pilots
Union vows to fight plan for up to 700 cuts
At least 500 Air Canada pilots - and possibly as many as 700 - will be declared ``surplus'' today and face layoffs starting Dec. 1.
The powerful Air Canada Pilots Association, the union for Air Canada's 3,600 pilots, has vowed to challenge any layoffs before the Canadian Industrial Relations Board. The pilots, like many other Air Canada employees, have provisions in their contracts prohibiting layoffs until 2004.
``I'm not saying that we won't talk to them (about ways to get pilots to leave voluntarily). I'm saying that we won't have layoffs hanging over our heads,'' said Captain Don Johnson, president of the pilots' association.
Air Canada maintains that 171 pilots aren't covered by those contract provisions.
The airline plans to start issuing layoff notices to pilots later this week, said Air Canada spokesperson Laura Cooke.
Money-losing Air Canada, which is expected to announce the worst quarterly results in its history Friday, has already announced intentions to cut 9,000 jobs and ground 84 planes.
But the carrier has been thwarted in those cost-cutting measures by the industrial relations board, which ordered Air Canada to rescind 1,280 layoff notices to customer service and reservations staff and delay the layoff of 1,200 flight attendants until after Nov. 1.
The board ordered the delays to provide time for unions to work with Ottawa and Air Canada on work-sharing and other programs, plans for which are still being finalized, to reduce the need for layoffs.
The average age of Air Canada's pilots is about 52, which makes it likely that layoffs could be avoided altogether through early retirement programs or a reduction in working hours, said Johnson.
``We're going to look at everything. Quite frankly, the last thing that we want is to see our pilots walk out the door.''
Yesterday, company officials and representatives of the pilots' union met to discuss the ``equipment list,'' Air Canada's biannual list of aircraft and routes the airline will be flying over the next six months. Pilots use the list to ``bid'' for their work.
The new list is expected to show that Air Canada needs at least 500 fewer pilots because of a 20 per cent cut in capacity and the gradual grounding of aircraft over the next few weeks.
The association will ask its members to ratify two proposals that could reduce the need for job cuts, said Johnson.
Air Canada is working on deals with a number of sports teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors, to put up to four aircraft in service flying the players to and from games. The new service would have up to 24 specially designated pilots who would transfer from the ailing mainline carrier, said Johnson.
The teams' charter carrier of the past four years, Sport Hawk International, filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this month.
The pilots association also has a letter of understanding with Air Canada that would allow pilots to take leaves of absence for up to five years, but have their seniority protected.
Air Canada continues to look for other innovative revenue streams to make up for the staggering loss of lucrative business travel, which has nosedived further since the terrorist attacks in the United States Sept. 11.
Yesterday, Air Canada announced new business fares at up to 50 per cent off transborder full economy-class fares on flights between Nov. 9 and Dec. 31.
``It looks like they're actually doing some entrepreneurial things,'' said Queen's University business professor Douglas Reid. ``These are experiments. There is no guarantee that any of this stuff will work.
``The good news is they're not just parking (grounded aircraft) in the desert like a lot of other airlines are doing. They're saying, `Alright, let's see what we can do. Let's go out there and see if we can make a market out of this.' ''
Laying off pilots could prove extraordinarily expensive for Air Canada because, as more junior pilots are let go, more senior pilots are bumped down to fill the empty spots, requiring lengthy and costly ($40,000 and up) retraining programs
Oct 30th 2001