A Canadian North B-737-300C combi on the ramp at Iqaluit Airport.
In July 2018, a merger was announced between Canadian North and First Air airlines, two carriers that have been competing in the northern Canadian market for some time. Although the companies attempted to merge in the past, the merger was unsuccessful. However, this time around there appears to be blue skies on the horizon.
“The merger announcement is a positive step for both pilot groups,” said Capt. Bill Rodgers, the Canadian North pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “The Canadian aviation industry is small, and a more efficient, stronger airline will be better suited to withstand the current economic pressures our two airlines have been facing.”
In order to ensure the smoothest transition possible, the Canadian North pilots formed a Joint Negotiating Committee and established a Merger Committee. The Canadian North MEC is also utilizing ALPA’s extensive experience dealing with the past mergers of its pilot groups.
On November 1, the Canadian North/First Air Joint Negotiating Committee held its initial meeting in Edmonton, Alb. The committee’s first task was to draft the transition and process agreement proposal, which ALPA’s Representation and Legal Departments reviewed. This meeting was followed by an initial sit-down in early December with management representatives to walk them through the transition and process agreement proposal. As merger talks continue throughout 2019, the agreement, once finalized, will guide all of the stakeholders through the process of merging the two pilot groups, negotiating and implementing a joint collective agreement, integrating the pilots’ seniority lists, and merging the two MECs.
Once management’s merger agreement is finalized, documents will be submitted to Transport Canada for review, and if approved, a single operating certificate will be awarded to the merged airline.
During 2018, the Canadian North MEC surveyed the pilot group to determine how best to increase pilot engagement regarding the First Air merger and other union activity. The pilots responded overwhelmingly in favour of more pilot unity-building (PUB) nights. The MEC has seen an increase in participation at PUB nights and has used the opportunity to keep pilots updated with the latest information from the company as well as gathering feedback from the pilots. More PUB events are planned during the coming year, with the goal of holding one PUB event at each pilot base every three months.
Last year, tourism from China and Korea provided additional business for the airline, with an increase in passenger traffic into the Yellowknife area, one of Canadian North’s main hubs. Canadian North also recently acquired a Dash 8-300 to fulfill a new contract for additional flying to the oil sands sites. In addition, the B-737 fleet has seen an increase in flying. While this increase hasn’t led to any new B-737 captain positions, the increased business helps to alleviate concerns pilots may have regarding potential layoffs or furloughs.
The new year is shaping up to be a busy one for the MEC. “We’re optimistic about the merger with First Air,” Rodgers acknowledged. “It will be challenging—but like most challenges in life, it offers great opportunity.”