May 19, 2023

WestJet averts pilots strike, agrees to new contract


WestJet, the second-largest passenger airline in Canada that recently added freighter service in North America, and the union representing 1,850 pilots reached a last-minute agreement in principle Thursday night on a new labor contract, avoiding a strike that would have shut down business.

The tentative agreement between management and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) must still be presented to union membership for a ratification vote. The pilots were ready to walk off the job Friday morning without a deal after nine months of negotiations.

ALPA said the collective bargaining agreement provides better job security, wages and flexible schedules, closing the gap in these areas with their North American counterparts. 

“When I started at WestJet 18 years ago, it was seen as a career destination,” said Capt. Bernard Lewall, chair of the WestJet ALPA Master Executive Council. “For the past several years, we have unfortunately been nothing more than a training ground for pilots looking to leave for better opportunities. This contract will change that and make WestJet a career destination once again.” 

WestJet said it is ramping up operations as quickly as possible after beginning a controlled wind down on Thursday to minimize passenger inconvenience and stranded aircraft. 

“The WestJet Group is pleased to have reached a tentative agreement that is industry-leading within Canada and recognizes the important contributions of our valued pilots by providing meaningful improvements to job security and scope, working conditions and wages,” said CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech.

The resolution is good news for cargo owners that utilize WestJet to move goods. WestJet last month began operating an all-cargo unit with three Boeing 737-800 freighters connecting four Canadian cities, plus Miami and Los Angeles. A fourth freighter is expected to join the fleet this year. WestJet also moves cargo in the holds of passenger jets.

Air Canada adds freighter destination

In related news, Air Canada on Friday operated its first freighter flight into San José, Costa Rica, with one of its Boeing 767s. The flights will operate twice per week. 

Air Canada has six Boeing 767 freighters in its fleet 18 months after launching a freighter airline. Four of the planes are retired passenger jets that were converted to cargo configuration and two are production freighters from Boeing that entered service this month. Air Canada is adding more destinations as cargo aircraft join the fleet.

The network expansion follows the start of weekly freighter service to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, this month, and the addition of Basel, Switzerland, as a freighter destination last month. Air Canada Cargo also recently added two weekly flights to Miami and Atlanta and one to Liege, Belgium.

The freighter division also flies to Dallas; Mexico City and Guadalajara, Mexico; Quito, Ecuador; Lima, Peru; Bogota, Colombia; Frankfurt and Cologne, Germany; Barcelona, Spain; and Istanbul.

Having freighters in addition to passenger service allows Air Canada to provide consistent, year-round capacity to cargo owners. 

Click here for more FreightWaves and American Shipper articles by Eric Kulisch.

Contact Reporter: [email protected]


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