One of four B-737s that First Air operates.
First Air kicked off 2017 with a company rebranding initiative that culminated in October with the launch of a new livery for the aircraft and a new company logo and colours. To date, two aircraft have been repainted in the new livery, and the company plans to complete the entire fleet transition within the next two years.
The First Air Master Executive Council (MEC) had a productive 2017, holding MEC meetings in Yellowknife, N.W.T., in the spring and Ottawa, Ont., in the fall. “These meetings were extremely constructive, and in the fall the MEC created and finalized our first strategic plan for the pilot group,” said F/O Charlene Hudy, the pilot group’s MEC chair.
First Air’s new look isn’t the only change at the company. Murray Balzer became the new director of flight operations and participated in the MEC’s fall meeting in Ottawa. In November, First Air also hired one of its pilots, F/O Chris Duggan, as the manager of flight safety. “The MEC is confident that we can work with Murray and Chris to continue to build on the positive safety culture at First Air. We’ve been actively engaging our new management and building a dialogue in an effort to continue the working relationship the union has built with the company,” Hudy noted.
Moving forward with that relationship, the MEC plans to address scheduling for rotational ATR pilots with management, and the pilots’ Negotiating and Scheduling Committees have been working diligently to find a solution to scheduling issues.
Pilot retention and engagement became challenging at First Air this past year. The MEC gathered information from pilots upon their departure from the airline in an exit poll to get a better understanding of the issue. As the leader of the pilot group, Hudy is particularly concerned with losing valuable union volunteers. “Typically when someone leaves, it creates a vacancy on a committee,” Hudy pointed out. “Therefore the MEC is focusing on attracting new volunteers and ensuring that we always have potential members being trained to fill open positions as they arise. Our union is only as strong as the volunteers; and while we have numerous people willing to serve and make a difference, our goal for 2018 is to actively engage new hires so that they’re aware of all the ALPA volunteer opportunities.”
While union representatives have been busy welcoming new hires to ALPA and presenting at all the new-hire ground school classes, the MEC struggles with continued pilot engagement. “We continue to communicate with our pilots through biweekly e-mail updates and face-to-face conversations at our meetings, but it’s difficult to keep members engaged,” acknowledged Hudy.
Over the summer, the MEC conducted an all-pilot survey to gauge the pilots’ needs and desires for upcoming negotiations. Meanwhile F/O Steve Bard, the MEC vice chair, worked with ALPA’s Communications Department to develop a new website for the MEC, which is in the works and will launch soon. The MEC is also revamping its logo to coincide with the new First Air colours.
“With change, there’s opportunity,” said Hudy, “and through volunteer engagement and the active strengthening of our union committees, I’m confident we can continue to strongly advocate for the concerns of the First Air pilot group.”