Bearskin Pilots
A Fairchild Metro III/23 at Ottawa International Airport. {Photo: F/O Liz de Swaaf [Bearskin])

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Bearskin Airlines pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) entered 2021 using every resource in its toolbox to protect pilot jobs. The pilot group was able to mitigate pilot layoffs through reduced blocks hours, contractual concessions, and enabling the company to offer voluntary leaves of absence without pay. Throughout COVID letter of understanding negotiations, both the pilots and the company had a shared interest in saving jobs and amending language in the collective agreement where necessary—including management pilot flying restrictions and introducing a monthly block average.

The beginning of the year also saw significant changes within the MEC. Elections had recently been held, and F/O Tamer Alhabash was elected chair and first officer representative, Capt. Robert Maxwell vice chair and captain representative, and Capt. Manas Mukherjee secretary-treasurer. The MEC also saw increased voluntarism within the pilot group and appointed Capt. Kyle Smith Central Air Safety Committee chair, F/O Anna Spehr Communications Committee chair, and F/O Kim Steingass MEC advisor.

Steingass was the MEC chair from 2017 to 2020 before his departure to Air Transat. His wealth of knowledge of Bearskin operations and the collective agreement has helped the MEC tremendously.

“It was a challenge stepping into the position of MEC chair during the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on our operations as it was a big learning curve,” said Alhabash. “But given my previous position as MEC vice chair and with the help of Kyle and Anna and ALPA’s experienced staff, we’ve been able to provide strong representation for our members.”

Bearskin was able to pick up charter flights during the summer months, which required higher-than-anticipated crew levels. These charters kept the company from having to put into effect any layoffs, and only a handful of leaves of absence without pay were taken.

By September, the airline’s daily scheduled service had increased and returned to pre-COVID levels. As a result, no further contractual concessions were required, and eligible pilots who were on leaves of absence without pay returned to work. “With increased operations, we’ve been undergoing position upgrades and welcoming new hires onto our property,” Alhabash noted.

Bearskin, which merged with Perimeter Aviation in 2018 and became a subsidiary brand operating under the Perimeter name, continues joint negotiations with Perimeter that began in early 2020. The pace of negotiations has significantly slowed since then due to challenges brought about by COVID-19, though the company and the pilots have continued to bargain. “Despite the challenges faced by our employer, we remain optimistic about the future as we continue to uphold the collective interest of both pilot groups,” said Alhabash.

Going into 2022, Bearskin pilots will continue to work with the company to achieve their goals and to help ensure stability for the airline. “The MEC believe it’s essential that the company focus on the proper level of scheduling/staffing and comply with the pilots’ collective agreement,” commented Alhabash. “These actions will help grow profits, improve employee morale, and increase employee retention.” The pilots will also continue to work with Perimeter pilots to show unity and to streamline the merging of the two pilot groups under a joint collective agreement.

Elections for the MEC’s next term, which begins on March 1, were held in November. Although no new pilots were elected, there was a slight shift in positions with Maxwell elected chair, Alhabash vice chair, and Smith secretary-treasurer. “We’re excited to proceed into the new year on a positive note after all the turmoil associated with the pandemic,” remarked Maxwell. “And we’ll continue to represent our pilots in a strong and unified manner.”