Air Transat

Air Transat Pilots
An Air Transat aircraft taking off from Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.

Last year had its ups and downs for the Air Transat pilot group. In January, the Master Executive Council (MEC) started negotiations with management for a one-year extension to the pilots’ collective agreement. Their main goal was improving salaries and bringing them more in line with those of pilots at similar carriers. The pilots’ Negotiating Committee successfully negotiated an increase in pay of 8 to 11 percent, and the collective agreement was ratified on March 19.

During that time, the airline was hiring approximately 10 pilots per month. However, everything changed on March 23 when the company announced it was grounding all flights as of April 1 (after the repatriation of Canadians) due to the COVID-19 pandemic and furloughing all pilots as of April 23. The furlough forced pilots to go on the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy program.

While passenger flights were canceled, the airline investigated other means of maintaining viability. In May, the airline signed a contract with a cargo broker in Toronto, Ont., to transport bulk cargo on the upper deck of its aircraft. Approximately 44 pilots were recalled on June 15; however, the project encountered regulatory and administrative hurdles and never materialized.

The company had planned to restart passenger flying by July 23, believing that by that time the worst of the pandemic would have passed, so additional pilots were recalled on June 17 and through July. With European destinations reopening, the airline was optimistic that the COVID-19 crisis was in the rearview mirror. As a result, the airline recalled even more pilots for July 13, 17, and 27. With the recalls came the arduous and complicated task of getting all of these pilots requalified. Scheduling time in the simulators was difficult as was ensuring that the training facilities met the rigorous public-health guidelines.

A few days before the first scheduled restart flight was to take off, the government announced that the quarantine for individuals reentering Canada would be extended. As a result, the July 27 recall of pilots was canceled.

“This was a significant blow to the morale of the pilots,” said Capt. Pierre Lessard, the pilot group’s MEC chair. “Whether it’s our destinations being under lockdown or our own government’s quarantining policies, COVID-19 seemed to consistently derail our restart.”

In October, Air Canada renegotiated its purchase price of Air Transat to C$5 a share from C$18, citing the economic downturn of the industry as its primary reason. Shareholders have overwhelmingly approved the renegotiated price, and the Canadian government and European Union are expected to approve the deal by early February. If all of these measures are met, the transaction would be approved by February 15.

In another turn of events, on November 15 Air Transat reduced its capacity to two airplanes. As a result, 100 of the remaining 189 active pilots were furloughed.

Then on January 28 the federal government announced a new set of travel restrictions that led to Air Transat ceasing all flights into the Caribbean and Mexico through April 30. The situation continued to deteriorate when the airline announced all operations would cease and that its last flight would take place on February 13. All pilots would be laid off as of February 28.

On February 11, the Canadian government approved the sale of Air Transat to Air Canada. “We’re pleased to receive this news, but we’re still waiting final approval from the EU regulators,” said Lessard.