Canadian North

Canadian North Pilots
A Dash 8-106 in Igloolik, N.U., north of the Arctic Circle.

The Canadian North pilots spent much of 2016 on a roller coaster as their airline continued to search for its place in an erratic market caused by the drop in oil prices, which, unfortunately, negatively affects their company’s operations. Despite the ups and downs, the pilots provided emergency evacuation services during a massive wild fire in Fort McMurray, Alb., while preparing for collective bargaining that opened the end of 2016.

The year kicked off with an increase in charter flying that lead to a recall of furloughed pilots. “I’m confident that the professionalism and high level of customer service provided by our flight crews played a crucial role in why we saw vacation charters become a larger portion of our flying,” said F/O Brenen Sorokan, the pilots’ Master Executive (MEC) vice chairman.

However, by early spring the airline’s vacation flying had slowed and charter flying had decreased due to Alberta oil companies’ scaling back their demand for service to the oil sands, so many of the recall notices were rescinded. “It was at that point that we realized the Layoff and Reduction section of our collective agreement needed to be addressed,” Sorokan acknowledged, “and that’s something we plan to discuss during these negotiations,” which started this past November.

Despite the ups, downs, and uncertainty, the pilots forged ahead. After Canadian North experienced a dramatic increase in school field trips to its hangar in Edmonton, Alb., the pilots’ MEC Education Committee was recruited by the airline to manage the influx of school students coming to tour the facility. “It’s so important that we engage future pilots while they’re still young and wide-eyed about flying,” Sorokan said. “This is one component of our work that is very enjoyable.”

In early May, Canadian North pilots and staff were mobilized to safely and efficiently transport people and pets from Fort McMurray after a wildfire destroyed more than 1,700 homes and buildings. More than 80,000 residents were evacuated—the largest mass evacuation in the history of Alberta. “I’m extremely proud of the professionalism and compassion Canadian North pilots showed during this extremely stressful time,” said Sorokan. “Our pilots and planes were flying 24 hours a day transporting families, their pets, and all the belongings they could manage to save from Fort McMurray to Edmonton. Between May 4 and May 8, Canadian North evacuated more than 16,000 people on 294 charter flights, all while maintaining its normal scheduled operations.”

As summer progressed, the MEC began preparing to negotiate a new collective agreement. The MEC and Negotiating Committee met with ALPA staff to prepare for negotiations and develop a strategic plan to ensure that the pilots have the resources in place to bring important issues to the table, advance negotiations, and effectively position the pilots should negotiations end without an agreement.

This strategy included a negotiating survey to ascertain where the pilots want the Negotiating Committee to expend its negotiating capital and a multipart educational campaign that details how the bargaining process works in Canada.

In November, the company announced it was canceling a code-share agreement with First Air, which had the two carriers partnering on three-quarters of the airlines’ scheduled flying. “This agreement between both companies seemed to stabilize the scheduled air service market in the north,” said Sorokan, “but now that the agreement terminates in May, it may provide our pilot group with increased flying on the northern scheduled routes.”

Also during 2016, the MEC began to live stream its MEC/town-hall–type meetings on the Internet for those pilots who were unable to attend in person, continued to hold pilot unity-building events, and conducted an ALPA Family Fun Day.

“Despite the challenges we face, the support we continue to receive from ALPA as we enter negotiations is invaluable,” Sorokan said.