Cargojet Pilots
A Cargojet B-767-200 taxis at Luxembourg Airport. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As one of the union’s newest groups, Cargojet pilots are still realizing their full potential as ALPA members. The Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) certified the Association as the pilot group’s labour representative in the fall of 2021.

“We’re still in the process of building our committee structure to give it the focus and direction it will need moving forward,” said Capt. Shane Neville, the pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “The fundamental committees are in place, but some of the volunteers are still learning their roles. You could say that we’re still realizing what we’re fully capable of,” he noted. Neville observed that one of the biggest hurdles confronting the pilot group has been engaging the carrier’s management to help it understand how the two parties can better work together.

The pilot group has experienced its share of growing pains as 23 of the airline’s new-hire pilots, including several who actively supported the move to ALPA from a previous union, were unlawfully terminated. While many of the pilots were furloughed from Air Canada at the time and have since been recalled, ALPA filed an unfair labour practice complaint and is currently waiting for the CIRB to set a hearing date.

In addition, Cargojet pilots have confronted several other challenges, including the enforcement of a contract negotiated with their previous union—one that remains in effect until June 2026. “We’re in what I’d call the administrative phase of the agreement,” said Neville, explaining that significant provisions in the agreement aren’t as definitive as they might be. Consequently, the pilot group continues to work with management to develop a more concrete understanding of the intent of these terms.

“We’re in a better position to move forward with some of the resulting disagreements now that we have an active Grievance Committee in place,” Neville remarked. “We’re setting dates for arbitration to address outstanding concerns, but there are still some gray areas,” he observed.

Despite these challenges, the pilots’ rapport with management has noticeably improved during the last year. “I’m comfortable with where we are. Is it a fully mature relationship? Not yet, but we’re getting closer with every interaction,” Neville acknowledged.

Both parties have benefited from a flourishing operation. Cargojet has long-term strategic partnerships with Amazon, Canada Post, and Purolator. Last spring, the carrier entered a seven-year capacity agreement with DHL valued at up to $1.8 billion and, on Nov. 14, 2022, announced a five-year extension of its air cargo services agreement with United Parcel Service Canada Ltd.

With these new deals secured, the Ontario-based shipping contractor continues to hire, having increased its pilot ranks by nearly 25 percent during the last year. “We’re currently running a ground school targeting up to 16 new flightcrew members every three weeks,” said Neville. While attrition has been a problem for the airline in the past, the loss of pilots to other carriers has significantly slowed in recent months.

Cargojet is also expanding its fleet. The carrier announced last spring that it’s invested in eight B-777 passenger aircraft that will be reconfigured for cargo. However, concerned about a projected downturn in the global economy, Cargojet has delayed the delivery schedule as part of an effort to better manage its capital expenditures. The carrier has also discussed deferring two B-767s it has on order until there’s a clearer understanding of how air freight markets might be affected.

Meanwhile, Cargojet pilots continue to grow into their role as ALPA members, developing the committee structure and resources necessary to serve their members. Six of the pilot leaders attended their first ALPA Board of Directors meeting in October 2022 to network with their peers at other carriers and further their knowledge of the Association’s vast toolbox. “We’ve learned a lot in a short time, but, in many respects, our journey has just begun,” Neville remarked.