It was a year of transition for Calm Air pilots as they adjusted to new flying due to the company’s changed business model. Midway through 2015, Calm Air management entered into an agreement with First Air regarding serving the territory of Nunavut. “Calm Air has traditionally covered the Kivalliq region of Nunavut, serving the communities that line the Hudson Bay,” explained Capt. Dan Cowan, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chairman. “We’ll continue to serve those communities. In addition, Calm Air has entered into a long-term wet-lease agreement with First Air.” The airline is wet-leasing a B-737 that First Air operates to serve the Winnipeg–Rankin Inlet–Churchill route.
The airline’s revised flying schedule has created a hub-and-spoke network, which is now centered in Rankin Inlet instead of Churchill, Man. The change has prompted the company to lease a hangar and build a crew house in Rankin Inlet. “Management feels this will allow the company to become stronger moving forward and maintain a solid presence in the Arctic,” said Cowan.
“The Arctic is a tough market in which to compete,” Cowan added, “because the population is spread out over such a wide area. Calm Air pilots understand that we’ll have obstacles to face and challenges to meet to secure our future and the future of the carrier. If the company feels this move is necessary for the long-term sustainability of the airline, then we’ll work to make sure we both get what we want and need.”
Before taking over the Winnipeg–Rankin Inlet–Churchill route, the pilots and management negotiated a letter of understanding (LOU). Through the LOU, pilot negotiators were able to secure increased credit value earned with the Rankin flying. “We’re midway through our five-year collective agreement,” Cowan explained, “but we used this opportunity to negotiate and secure a small benefit for our pilots that compensates for the lost quality of life due to the new flying schedule.”
The MEC continues to work with management to address the concerns and issues the new flying has created. “The pilots are trying to look at the change objectively,” said Cowan. “It’s not an ideal situation, but most know that the change made sense for the long-term viability of the company and their careers.” The MEC has always acknowledged that many of the pilots prefer to stay at Calm Air rather than move to larger carriers because of the lifestyle the carrier offers.
Outside of the new Arctic flying, Calm Air continues its strong presence in the Northern Manitoba market, with the Dornier 328JET performing the bulk of the airline’s scheduled operations. On the cargo side, the airline retired its last Hawker Siddeley HS 748 freighter in June last year. The British 1960s-era airplane was used to haul freight throughout Northern Manitoba and the Arctic. “It was the workhorse of the Calm Air operations for many, many years,” Cowan said. “It’s the end of an era, and the airplane will be missed.” An ATR 72 that’s been reconfigured to haul freight has replaced the Hawker.
The MEC reported moderate hiring in 2015, which compensated for the modest pilot attrition. Starting the year with 90 pilots, the airline ended the year with 91 pilots on its seniority list.
Cowan noted the MEC continues to monitor any possible changes to Canadian flight- and duty-time regulations and rest requirements that Transport Canada’s Canadian Aviation Regulation Advisory Council Flight Crew Management Working Group report might bring about. The MEC remains optimistic that newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will move forward quickly with the report’s recommendations.