A Wasaya Dash 8 flight drops off commercial fuel in Kingfisher Lake, Ont.
The more things change, the more they remain the same for Wasaya Airways pilots, who witnessed a major organizational shift in 2018. In February, the airline announced it would enter into a partnership with Exchange Income Corporation (EIC), a diversified-acquisition firm that specializes in aviation services and manufacturing.
EIC, which owns several other Canadian airlines including Bearskin and Calm Air, reportedly invested nearly $25 million in Wasaya as part of a financial restructuring effort the northwestern Ontario carrier has been engaged in for the past three years (Wasaya officially emerged from bankruptcy in 2016). In return, EIC acquired 49 percent ownership of the airline. The 12 First Nations communities, who fully owned Wasaya, now maintain control of the carrier by a slight margin.
As part of the deal, Michael Rodyniuk, Wasaya’s former president and CEO, was replaced by Tom Morris on September 5. Speaking about Rodyniuk, Capt. James Harding, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chair, said in his address to last fall’s ALPA Executive Board, “He gained the trust and confidence of the employees for his efforts during the restructuring of the company.”
The pilots remain hopeful that they can establish the same kind of rapport with the new president and CEO moving forward.
Other administrative changes include a new chief operating officer, Brad Martin, a former CEO of Bearskin Airlines. As this issue of Air Line Pilot went to press, the chief financial officer’s position was still open, having been vacated by Nick Purich, who recently opted to leave the carrier to take a post with the Saskatoon Airport Authority.
Despite the presence of EIC and management turnover, day-to-day operations remain much the same. Wasaya maintains the same essential fleet size and route structure that it had the year before and the number of pilots hasn’t changed significantly, although pilot attrition continues to be a serious problem. Wasaya must continually hire pilots, and as new hires build their hours and gain experience, many opt to leave for better-paying jobs and growth opportunities at larger airlines.
Participation in programs like the Jazz Aviation Pathway Program has helped Wasaya address this problem by creating a pipeline of new first officers, but pilot vacancies accumulate with alarming regularity. “Finding and keeping pilots at our carrier is an ongoing challenge,” said Harding.
To stem the tide of pilot departures, the MEC and management negotiated a letter of understanding (LOU) in the fall to authorize retention pay. “The LOU provides pilots with an additional 10 to 20 percent of their annual salaries, based on the amount of time they fly,” Harding noted. The company is reportedly allocating in access of $800,000 a year to fund this program.
Meanwhile, the most recent collective agreement for the Wasaya pilots will expire this coming summer, and Harding indicated that the pilot group is ramping up its activities in preparation. In December, the Negotiating Committee was finalizing a contract survey to circulate among the membership, and the company indicated that it would like to open contract talks sometime in February 2019.
A subsidiary of the Wasaya Group, Wasaya Airways is a 51 percent First Nations–owned domestic passenger and cargo carrier. The 12 Cree and Oji-Cree shareholder communities include Bearskin Lake, Fort Severn, Kasabonika Lake, Keewaywin, Kingfisher Lake, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, Muskrat Dam, Nibinamik, Pikangikum, Sandy Lake, Wapekeka, and Wunnumin Lake.
From the Oji-Cree language, “Wasaya,” which means “it is bright,” refers to the brilliance and intensity of the rising sun. Wasaya Airways operates 60 daily flights to 25 destinations in northwestern Ontario and Manitoba and is staffed with approximately 315 employees.