Request to use British carrier, crews still stands
By: Susan Pigg, business reporter
-----Toronto-based Skyservice Airlines Inc. will take over the leases on two Airbus A320s that have been parked at Pearson Airport since Canada 3000 unexpectedly grounded all its 38 aircraft last month.
The two aircraft will give Signature Vacations a "made-in-Canada solution" to getting thousands of travellers to sun destinations this winter, and fend off mounting opposition to its request for help from a British airline while 14,000 airline workers remain jobless in Canada, Signature said yesterday.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's done now, but it's a matter of dotting the I's and crossing the T's," said Grant DeMarsh, president of tour operations for Signature Vacations.
"We're at the point now where we know all of our customers are going to get their holidays."
Air Canada, Montreal-based Air Transat and Calgary-based WestJet Airlines will also pick up some of Signature's business, almost half of which had been handled by Canada 3000 before it went bankrupt Nov. 9.
But those airlines combined couldn't handle all of Signature's passengers and there were fears that bankruptcy proceedings aimed, in part, at returning Canada 3000's aircraft to their lessors were moving so slowly, Skyservice wouldn't be able to get some of the airplanes in time.
Some work is now being done on the planes, which are expected to fly vacationers to Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Las Vegas between Dec. 20 and the end of April, said DeMarsh.
But, just in case, Signature has no plans to withdraw its controversial application before the Canadian Transportation Agency to have Signature's sister company, British charter carrier Air 2000 Ltd., place two Boeing 757s in Toronto and use its own crews to operate some flights to southern destinations.
"Until there's a bow around the whole thing (the new agreement with Skyservice), you don't want to cut off any avenues," DeMarsh said in a telephone interview yesterday.
That request to Ottawa had outraged other airlines and unions for the 14,000 pilots, flight attendants, baggage handlers, mechanics and other airline employees who are now without jobs because of the grounding of Canada 3000 and layoffs at other Canadian airlines like giant Air Canada and Air Transat.
"I believe it sets a dangerous precedent," said Jim Ballingall, vice-president of marketing and sales for 55-year-old First Air, which had protested the request to have a British carrier fly passengers out of Canada when there are so many carriers here ? including First Air ? that could help pick up the slack.
"You have a number of potential operators, potential investors, looking at buying parts of Canada 3000," and starting up new, although much smaller airlines, Ballingall said. "If the government allows foreign carriers to come in and take Canadians to sun destinations, which is a good portion of what Canada 3000 did, why would anyone start up (an airline) here?"
Air Canada had opposed the unusual application, saying it could further destabilize Canada's already fragile airline industry