Bearskin Pilots
A Bearskin Fairchild Metro III/23 at Red Lake Airport.

It’s no surprise that the work of the Bearskin pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) has been dominated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the airline and the entire airline industry.

“We’ve had to adapt quickly and work hard to reduce the negative repercussions of the reduction in required pilot positions,” said Capt. David Page, the pilot group’s MEC chair. “It was uplifting to see just how many of our colleagues were prepared to take leaves and pay cuts to help prevent layoffs.”

To help navigate the challenges brought on by the pandemic, the MEC took advantage of ALPA’s vast resources and leaned on F/O Kim Steingass, a former Bearskin MEC chair who now flies for Air Transat, for assistance. “Kim used his relationships with management and familiarity with our issues in helping us negotiate several letters of understanding that preserved pilot jobs, and we’re very thankful for his unwavering support,” Page observed.

With COVID devasting the industry, Bearskin has been fortunate not to have any pilots test positive for the virus to date. This is due in large part to the thorough protocols that the MEC established and by following the most up-to-date medical guidance. “We needed to ensure that rigorous precautions were taken in order to avoid bringing COVID-19 into vulnerable rural communities in northern Canada,” Page said.

Despite seeing a recovery in business as 2020 progressed, the second wave of the virus could likely make 2021 just as challenging. “The bright spots are the development of vaccines and instituting airport COVID-19 testing, which will increase passengers’ confidence in returning to air travel and reduce the required quarantine time,” noted Page.

Despite the restrictions on the number of people able to meet at one time, the MEC was able to hold its seventh annual Celebration of Life for the crew and passengers who lost their lives in the Flight 311 accident in Red Lake, Ont., in 2013. The socially distanced event was well attended by both current and past Bearskin pilots, as well as by others involved in the local aviation industry.

While Bearskin merged with Perimeter Aviation in 2018 and became a subsidiary brand operating under the Perimeter name, the two pilot groups remained separate and represented by different organizations. In May 2019, ALPA won an election to represent both pilot groups.

Negotiations for a joint collective agreement are under way, which will be followed by an integrated seniority list and finally a merged MEC. The pandemic derailed much of this work for most of 2020, but the pilots are optimistic that the entire process will be completed this year.

The ongoing joint negotiations of the Perimeter MEC and Bearskin MEC with Perimeter Aviation are slowly progressing. While Bearskin and Perimeter’s Joint Negotiating Committee has the goal of achieving the best possible collective agreement for the combined pilot group, the effects of COVID-19 on the airline industry and Perimeter’s inflexibility are making negotiations challenging. However, the pilots are continuing the bargaining process with Perimeter virtually and are hopeful they’ll reach a mutually amicable resolution before the end of the year.

“We’re committed to ensuring that our combined pilot group obtains the contract that we deserve in 2021, which will provide our larger group with more job security and better working conditions,” Page said.