A winter sunset behind the tail of a Calm Air ATR 72 in Igloolik, Nunavut.
Following a productive 2019 during which the Calm Air pilots worked to fully implement their collective agreement and welcome the pilots of Perimeter Airlines, a fellow Exchange Income Corporation (EIC) carrier, into ALPA’s ranks, the pilot group’s leadership got off to a flying start in 2020.
Early in the new year, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) held its first meetings with management. Issues brought forward by both status representatives and management led to robust discussions about the future of the airline and their working relationship. Having the foresight regarding regulatory changes coming into effect by year’s end, pairings in the Arctic became an important part of those early discussions. They agreed that scheduling changes would need to be implemented prior to the flight-time/duty-time regulations coming into effect in December, as some normally scheduled pairings wouldn’t fit within the future prescribed limits.
However, before even getting to that point, Calm Air was faced with the unforeseen challenges stemming from COVID-19. In the very early stages of the pandemic, ALPA representatives and the MEC met with the entire flight operations management team. With uncertainty abounding, the MEC, with the help of ALPA’s Economic & Financial Analysis Department, presented multiple scenarios to the company and reviewed various options to mitigate potential layoffs—knowing it was necessary for both sides to make compromises. With the financial numbers prepared, the parties were able to understand and rationally discuss potential savings for the airline.
The options were very much in line with what many other airlines in Canada were implementing, such as offering pilots the opportunity to take leaves of absence and partial blocks of flying with a reduced minimum monthly guarantee.
“Having a positive relationship with Calm Air management allowed us to more easily collaborate in the early stages of the pandemic and throughout so that we could work together to keep the company healthy,” said Capt. Brendan Potter, the pilot group’s MEC chair. “The company’s willingness to utilize the government’s assistance programs and our pilots’ willingness to take voluntary leaves of absence and agree to new working conditions, including reduced flying, went a long way toward avoiding any layoffs by the end of 2020.”
Highlighting the positive working relationship between the pilot group and management, by the end of the year they had concluded their work on a series of letters of understanding—seven in total that evolved significantly throughout the pandemic, covering amendments to things such as reduced minimum monthly guarantee, raising the overtime threshold, and meal allowances all to help save pilot jobs.
However, it wasn’t just internal matters that had the attention of the pilot group and leadership. Following ALPA’s 2019 win to a challenge by Unifor to represent both ALPA’s Bearskin pilots and its own Perimeter pilots—with both airlines in the process of being merged—the Calm Air pilot leaders were closely monitoring the recruitment campaigns to bring EIC-owned or EIC-controlled PAL Airlines, Air Borealis, and PAL Aerospace into ALPA’s ranks.
“As ALPA Canada continues to grow, with the inclusion of more EIC carriers and others, we’ll continue our role as a leader within the EIC ranks for our fellow pilot groups,” said Potter. “We look forward to offering our assistance to new pilot group members and anyone else who needs it, thanks to our robust pool of volunteers, including a leading Pilot Assistance team and many others in our small but effective pilot group who are always willing to step up and help.”
With contract stability in place until 2023, the pilots and management will head into 2021 with the aim of working closely with their biggest customer, the government of Nunavut, to solve any outstanding COVID-19–related issues that may persist throughout the year, including testing, isolation, and safety rules designed to safeguard the public from further community spread of the virus.