Hundreds of pilots from Air Canada gathered for an informational picket on Saturday, calling for better working conditions and higher wages.
The pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), voiced their concerns about the winter route cuts announced by Air Canada in August that included multiple direct routes from Calgary, such as Ottawa, Halifax, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Cancun and Frankfurt.
“This country is vast, and it requires a sustainable aviation network. Some of the network contractions we’ve seen within the Air Canada network concerns us. It’s also a concern for Canadians who are losing these services,” said Charlene Hudy, chair of the Air Canada Master Elected Council in a release.
“We must achieve a stable pipeline of pilots in Canada, flowing through Air Canada and staying here, and to do so, Air Canada has to compensate pilots appropriately.” “We must achieve a stable pipeline of pilots in Canada, flowing through Air Canada and staying here, and to do so, Air Canada has to compensate pilots appropriately.”
Hudy, who expects the negotiations to continue until November, said that Air Canada pilots are grappling with multiple concerns, including job security, aviation safety, wage disparity, and career growth.
“We really feel that we’re being left behind as professional pilots at Air Canada and it’s time for us to catch up to our industry peers,” Hudy said.
“[United Airlines pilots] just ratified an agreement actually, on Sept. 29, the day that our contract expired. And that agreement has them being paid twice as much as an Air Canada pilot, if not more. And that kind of wage gap is, it’s not acceptable.”
She pointed out that Air Canada now has the chance to fix a pressing problem — the pilot shortage across the country.
“That pipeline of a pilot starting out their career, continuing on all the way to Air Canada and then staying at Air Canada, it’s a bit of a broken pipeline,” Hudy said.
“I think Air Canada has an opportunity to address that with these contract negotiations because younger people who are trying to decide what they’re going to do for their career … if they know that that investment that they make to become a pilot is going to be worth it in the end, you’re going to attract more people into the profession at the beginning.”
A heavy investment
According to her estimates, aspiring pilots can end up paying anywhere between $125,000 and $200,000 while acquiring their licences and ratings before they’re able to begin flying on a regular basis.
She added that work-life balance is also a major concern for pilots at Air Canada.
“This job does require sacrifice in terms of being away from home, missing family events like birthdays and missing holidays,” Hudy said.
“We love getting our passengers where they need to go. We just we want to have that balance. We want to be able to go to work, love our jobs, and also spend time with our loved ones and our family.”
According to WestJet ALPA Master Executive Council vice-chair Capt. Chris Tholl, his peers are not shying away from showcasing their support for pilots at Air Canada, who showed up in large numbers when WestJet pilots were tackling their own set of negotiations earlier this year.
“We find it very important to support one another within our profession,” he said.
“Why the WestJet pilots are here today, why I’m here today, is to let the Air Canada management know that they’re not just negotiating with Air Canada pilots. They’re negotiating with every ALPA pilot across Canada.”