First Air

First Air
Capt. Peter Black (First Air), left, his pilot group’s former Master Executive Council chairman, and Capt. Tim Canoll, ALPA’s president, visit Pangnirtung, Nunavut.

There was no shortage of success in 2016 for pilots at Canadian carrier First Air. “The Airline of the North” not only ratified a four-year tentative agreement with its pilot group, but also celebrated its 70th anniversary.

“Both achievements make a First Air pilot proud to be a part of this aviation history,” said F/O Charlene Hudy, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chairman. First Air has come a long way and gone through numerous challenges and changes throughout its 70-year history, including a fleet-renewal program for its B-737s and ATR fleet. “The longevity of our employees is truly amazing and speaks to the character of our pilots and why we will be the reason First Air celebrates 75 years,” Hudy noted.

Last summer, the pilot group ratified a collective agreement that equalized the playing field for all flightcrew members across all bases. Approximately 86 percent of eligible pilots participated in the ballot, and 79 percent voted in favor of the agreement. “Prior to this collective agreement, it always seemed like we had numerous mini-contracts within our larger contract,” said Hudy.

The new agreement unifies the group and better sets us up for future pattern bargaining, where the goal will be to continue to standardize the contract with those of pilot groups at other carriers in the industry. “This was one of the most efficiently negotiated contracts, and the MEC is very proud of that,” remarked Hudy. “The MEC is thankful to ALPA because without the never-ending support we received from the Representation, Economic & Financial Analysis, Legal, and Communications Departments, it would not have been possible.”

During the summer, the pilots also hosted Capt. Tim Canoll, ALPA’s president, on a tour of the Great White North to see the airline’s operation firsthand. Canoll met with crewmembers at some of First Air’s remote bases in Iqaluit, Pangnirtung, Qikiqtarjuaq, and the eastern side of the Baffin Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. “It was a great opportunity to have Capt. Canoll experience First Air’s Baffin Island ATR 42 operation, visit with the crewmembers, and experience Canada’s north,” Hudy said.

But 2016 also had its challenges—the biggest were the closure of the pilot base in Edmonton, Alb., and the removal of B-737-200s from the First Air fleet. The closure resulted in numerous layoffs within the already small pilot group. “Thankfully, throughout the contract negotiations, we maintained our strong layoff, severance, and displacement language, thereby ensuring protections for our Edmonton-based pilots when they needed it,” explained Hudy.

As the newly elected MEC chairman, Hudy’s goal is to continue to represent the best interest of the pilot group and protect the standards of the airline piloting profession while promoting a collaborative relationship with management. “Our former MEC chairman, Capt. Peter Black, left us in a great position moving forward with a strong working relationship and open communications with the company,” acknowledged Hudy.

Moving into 2017, the new MEC plans to continue to build and improve that relationship through open communications with the company and within the pilot group. Hudy also plans to grow the First Air pilot volunteer base and promote interest in ALPA at the local level, saying, “Part of this is continuing to improve our communications and actively engaging with our pilots through meetings, our new MEC website, e-mails, and face-to-face talks. When people feel like they are truly a part of something, they will be more encouraged to take a more active role. After all, our union is only as strong as the members we have participating, so one of my goals is to increase that participation.”