First Air

First Air
A B-737 and an ATR on the ramp at Iqaluit Airport. (Photo: F/O Jason Miller [First Air])

After spending the majority of 2020 pushing through the pandemic, First Air pilots spent 2021 negotiating their first joint collective agreement with Canadian North pilots and dealing with the government’s vaccine requirements.

By mid-May, the First Air and Canadian North pilots’ Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) had finished the fifth round of bargaining with Canadian North management. Both parties, along with staff from ALPA’s Economic & Financial Analysis and Representation Departments, met virtually from across the Northwest Territories, three provinces, and two countries, and the negotiations continued to be positive and productive.

Although the aviation industry continued to experience challenges, the JNC remained focused on achieving an industry-leading collective agreement for the unified pilot group.

In late spring, the company released a notice to all flight crews regarding changes to two familiar and long-standing call signs in the Canadian aviation industry. On April 30, the “First Air” call sign was replaced with Canadian North’s new identifier, “Arctic.” “First Air will be missed,” said Capt. Peter Black, the First Air Master Executive Council (MEC) chair, “but we’re very proud of the aviation DNA behind the new call sign, which, since 1946, has been the result of the consolidation of many iconic Canadian airline operations.”

By August, the JNC had resumed in-person meetings with the company and finally secured a joint collective agreement in September. The pilots’ JNC then put the agreement before the pilots for ratification, and they overwhelming voted in favour of the agreement. Of the 203 eligible voters, 180 (89 percent) took part in the vote. A resounding 84 percent (152) of the pilots approved the agreement.

Upon the announcement of the ratification, Black stated, “We’ve ratified a career contract for our pilots, firmly establishing Canadian North as one of the best Canadian airlines for many years to come.”

The next step in the consolidation of the First Air and Canadian North pilot groups is establishing the integrated seniority list. This process is well under way with the pilots’ Merger Committee meeting in early December to begin face-to-face discussions intended to fairly merge the two certified pilot seniority lists into a single list.

The final step in the consolidation process will be the formation of a combined First Air/Canadian North MEC. The current First Air Local Executive Council (LEC) 240 and 241 pilot representatives along with their Canadian North LEC 222 counterparts will continue to represent their respective pilot groups for the duration of their existing three-year election cycle. The election of the combined MEC officers is expected to take place early this year.

Days before launching a snap election, the federal government announced its intention to require COVID-19 proof of vaccination for interprovincial air travelers and employees of specific federally regulated industries, including the airline industry.

After the liberal government was reelected in September, officials confirmed that all airline workers were required to be vaccinated by the end of October. At the same time, the company was requesting the voluntary disclosure of vaccination status from the pilots in response to concerns from multiple charter clients. Shortly after, the company published its own mandatory vaccine requirement policy for all employees. “We’re not the first pilot group in Canada to receive this type of vaccine policy; in fact, most companies have taken the same action. The MEC has been preparing for this eventuality,” Black observed.

Looking ahead, the First Air pilots are optimistic that they’ll be well positioned for success in 2022 and ready to face whatever challenges come their way.