Most airlines appreciate a drop in oil prices and celebrate the resulting increase in profits. But for Canadian North pilots, falling oil prices means less charter work serving the oil sands of Northwestern Canada and a potential for furloughs as that flying decreases. However, the company has been fervently seeking more charter work, which now has Canadian North pilots flying to the warmer climes of Mexico and the Caribbean.
“The airline continues to diversify, which is helping to curtail pilot furloughs,” said Capt. Olivier Goudreau, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chairman. “While we’re watching one segment of our flying decrease, we’re seeing the southern destination charter segment increase.”
According to Goudreau, Canadian North signed a wet-lease agreement with Air Transat to operate weekend flying out of Calgary and Edmonton, Alb., to the sunny destinations of Cozumel, Cancun, and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, which started in December 2015 and continue through April. Goudreau noted that “there is finally a polar bear in Mexico,” referencing the polar bear logo that emblazons Canadian North aircraft.
Canadian North pilots operate scheduled passenger service to major communities in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, which can include landings and takeoffs on remote ice and gravel runways in the Arctic, as well as charter and cargo flights throughout Canada, the United States, and now Mexico and the Caribbean. The airline recently retrofitted a B-737-300 to a combi, giving the aircraft more versatility to transport passengers, cargo, or a combination of both at the same time.
Along with the new scheduled weekend passenger service to Mexico, the pilots continue to fly charter operations for the Canadian Football League under a three-year contract, which was signed in 2014 and kicks off again in June, and for the Canadian men’s soccer team, which provided opportunities to fly into Dominica and El Salvador. And while the airline’s charter flying for Celebrity Cruise lines out of Ottawa, Ont.; Québec City, Qué.; Halifax, N.S.; Moncton, N.B.; and London, Ont., was down in 2015 due to slower ticket sales, the airline is “well-positioned to serve the cruise line for years to come,” Goudreau said. From January through April this year, Canadian North will transport 1,300 visitors from Moncton and Halifax to Palm Beach, Fla., in its agreement with Celebrity Cruises.
A code-share partnership between Canadian North and First Air—which has the two carriers partnering on three-quarters of the airlines’ scheduled flying—appears to have lowered yearly operating costs for Canadian North by roughly $10 million. And according to Goudreau, this should provide even more opportunities for growth.
“The diversification of the airline has provided additional opportunities for the company and the pilots,” said Goudreau. The pilot group has 124 active pilots, with 20 pilots on leaves of absence and 12 on furlough. Goudreau noted that a recall class is slated to begin March 28.
Amid the airline’s continued diversification, the MEC is preparing to negotiate a new collective agreement. Goudreau said the MEC and Negotiating Committee will begin working with ALPA staff early this year to develop a strategic plan that will support contract negotiations that begin in the fall.
“It’s been a gloomy time to be a Canadian North pilot,” said Goudreau. “But the MEC continues to work with the company to identify ways to grow the airline, which will hopefully lead to a recall of our furloughed pilots, while we continue to provide high-quality service to our passengers and our growing charter business.”