A Flair B-737 MAX 8 at Los Angeles International Airport. Photo: Capt. Chris Toornstra (Flair)

To say that 2022 was a roller-coaster year for Flair Airlines and its pilot group would be an understatement. After enduring the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the airline and the pilots started out the new year with high expectations. However, they encountered a few challenges and uncertainties along the way.

As of early spring, the pilots’ contract negotiations with management were progressing well. Flight loads had increased, and the airline started to add new routes and airplanes to manage the demand. Pilot ranks had also risen over the months from 175 to 301.

However, the airline hit some turbulence on March 3 when the Canadian federal government and its regulatory agency, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), issued a preliminary status determination that Flair Airlines wasn’t wholly Canadian owned. This determination could have resulted in severe financial penalties or the loss of the airline’s license, thereby grounding the airline’s fleet. Flair was provided 60 days to prove that its ownership structure was indeed Canadian.

As this situation was unfolding, the pilots’ Negotiating Committee and ALPA’s Representation and Economic & Financial Analysis staff experts continued negotiating, hoping for a positive resolution to the ownership issue. On June 1, the CTA determined that Flair Airlines had met the ownership requirements to be considered Canadian, which enabled the airline to continue flying.

“The CTA ruling came at an essential time for the carrier as it had added additional routes to support the increased flight loads for summer travel,” said Capt. Chris Toornstra, the pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “The decision also came at a time when new low-cost competitors began entering the marketplace. But we believe Flair has an advantage as we’re the first low-cost Canadian airline to survive more than 18 months in operation.”

After two years of negotiations, the MEC and management reached a tentative agreement on the pilots’ first collective agreement. “We’re proud of the three-year deal we’ve achieved, and the MEC and Negotiating Committee stand by it,” added Toornstra. “Not only have we enhanced our pay, job security, and quality of life, we’ve placed ourselves in a better bargaining position when we negotiate a new agreement in three years or any other agreements in the interim.”

The collective agreement provides industry-leading wages and ensures pilot pay will remain in line with future increases at other carriers. Prior to this agreement, Flair pilots had been working for two years under uncertain working conditions, and their wages trailed many of their peers.

On December 12, the pilots ratified their first collective agreement. With 88 percent of the eligible pilots voting, 65 percent voted in favour of the agreement.

The pilots’ Negotiating Committee relied on ALPA’s professional staff throughout the lengthy negotiations process. The committee believes the agreement provides a solid foundation for the pilot group’s first collective agreement. “None of this could have been accomplished without pilot unity and involvement,” Toornstra observed. “This contract is a positive step forward, and our pilots can now focus on their future, knowing it’s brighter than ever.”