Kelowna Flightcraft

Kelowna Pilots
A Kelowna Flightcraft DC-10F at Hamilton John C. Munro International Airport.

The tumultuous uncertainty Kelowna Flightcraft pilots experienced in 2015 after the loss of their only flying contract finally began to dissipate during 2016 after their company secured a new cargo contract.

“Things have definitely stabilized from this time last year because of the new flying with Solar Cargo,” said F/O Nathan Lewis, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) custodian. KF Aerospace (formerly Kelowna Flightcraft Ltd.) signed a contract with the U.S. division of Solar Cargo that puts two of its McDonnell Douglas DC-10 freighters back to work in Miami, Fla.

In 2014, the airline lost its bid to retain its Canada Post Group of Companies service agreement to transport one million pounds of air freight each night across Canada with the exception of limited regional flying in British Columbia using the Convair 580. In November 2015, the company announced it would discontinue scheduled service with the DC-10 freighter and move to a strictly ad-hoc business model.

“At the time, we were told this was a profitable business plan and that our aircraft fit a ‘niche’ market that would prevent any layoffs,” Lewis explained. However, in early March 2016 the pilots received notification that the company had determined the DC-10 freighter program was no longer sustainable and that it would be suspending operations effective immediately, closing the Toronto, Ont., operations and parking the aircraft in Hamilton, Ont.

“It was a devastating loss that caused undeniable chaos,” Lewis said, acknowledging the significant impact the situation had on the pilots. However, just one month later, the company announced it had signed an agreement with Solar Cargo to operate return flights two to three times per week to Lima, Peru; Bogota, Colombia; and Caracas, Venezuela.

According to Lewis, “That initial one-year contract was recently renewed for another year,” which provides a degree of stability the pilots haven’t experienced lately.

“Despite the turmoil and uncertainty that’s plagued us during the past two years, the pilots continue to forge ahead flying with the utmost professionalism, focused on safety and efficiency,” Lewis stressed.

To accommodate the new flying contract, Letter of Understanding 3 addressed the company using previously qualified DC-10 pilots from the pilot seniority list out of seniority order until the airline’s DC-10 simulator is operational.

“There will be growing pains with any new flying,” Lewis added, “but now that our flying is relatively stable, we’ll begin working to rectify some operating issues in the new year. The MEC and management recognize that more operational issues may arise as we move forward, so both sides remain open to ongoing negotiations.” According to Lewis, the new flying eliminated the need for additional furloughs, and the addition of a DC-10 simulator at the Kelowna, B.C., facility will result in recall notices being issued early this year and will resolve the out-of-seniority-order issue that arose with the new flying.

Due to the instability of the airline and issues with maintaining elected representatives, the MEC has been operating since October 2015 under ALPA custodianship, which is designed to allow the MEC the breathing room it needs to rebuild its volunteer infrastructure. In October 2016, the Executive Council passed a resolution to dissolve Council 212, so all of the pilots are now in Council 206. As this issue goes to press, the pilot group remains in custodianship, and no elections for new officers have been held.

“Soliciting volunteers can be difficult during the best of times,” commented Lewis, “but it’s downright daunting when pilot group numbers plummet. Now that flying has stabilized and pilots can see a future with the airline, I expect the MEC may exit custodianship during 2017.

“We’ve experienced quite a bit of turbulence during the past two years as the company continues to find a sustainable business model for its aircraft division,” Lewis concluded, “but I think it’s finally on the right path.”