First Air

First Air
A First Air ATR 42-300 at Pangnirtung Airport in Nunavut.

It was a year full of new, and even some familiar, beginnings for the First Air Master Executive Council (MEC). When Capt. Charlene Hudy, then MEC chair, left the airline earlier in the year, the MEC reelected Capt. Peter Black, a former longtime MEC chair, to the post as the pilot group’s union leader.

Black noted, “It’s still very early in my term, but I’ve tried to continue the transparency and openness that helped define Charlene’s leadership of the MEC. Communications are important, and the MEC tries to ensure that our pilots remain informed about what we’re doing on their behalf.” Open communications will remain a priority for the MEC in 2019 as several important issues are front and center for the pilots.

Pilot turnover remains problematic for the airline and is creating challenges associated with relatively low-experienced pilots operating in environmental conditions that include extreme cold and continuous darkness during much of the year. “We’re not alone with these challenges, and the industry is working hard to deal with ways to mitigate them while continuing to enhance safety,” said Black.

The merger process with Canadian North will continue to remain a focus for the First Air pilots. The merger was announced in July 2018, and the MEC spent much of the second part of the year working on merger-related issues. “We’ve had various meetings with our counterparts at Canadian North, and the First Air MEC has made considerable progress in preparing for the expected merger,” Black observed.

Although the First Air pilots are still awaiting the final results of the Competition Bureau’s review process and Transport Canada’s public interest review regarding the merger, the MEC is doing its best to ensure that the pilot group and the Negotiating Committee are well prepared and ready to hit the ground running.

In, August, the First Air MEC held a meeting in Yellowknife, N.W.T., that was the first step in moving the process forward. Representatives from Jazz Aviation, Delta, and United provided very timely insight and advice regarding their respective mergers. “I believe the meeting was a great success. The Canadian North MEC was also in attendance and that helped us begin to build our relationship,” Black said. The pilots also received support from ALPA’s elected leaders as all of the union’s national officers were in attendance, and Black believes that goes a long way when it comes to understanding the challenges the First Air pilots face.

Looking ahead, the First Air MEC leaders have several things to achieve under ALPA’s merger process. They’ll need to agree on four elements involved in the merger process—the transition and process agreement, the joint collective agreement, the integrated seniority list, and eventually MEC consolidation. The MEC remains optimistic that these elements will come together with some hard work and considerable assistance from ALPA. “We also have support from many ALPA pilot groups on both sides of the border and intend to leverage their experiences and advice as we make our way through the merger and into the future of the new Canadian North,” commented Black.

The cooperation between the First Air and Canadian North pilot groups and their respective MECs is solid, and Black hopes the First Air MEC and Negotiating Committee will set another positive example of how to complete an airline merger the right way. “There will be challenges along the way, many of which we can anticipate, and a few that will come out of nowhere. However, I feel very strongly that the resources available to us through ALPA will help us navigate the process successfully,” he added.