A B-737 prepares to touch down in Vancouver, B.C. (Photo: Wikimedia)
The pilots of Edmonton, Alb.-based Flair Airlines, one of ALPA’s newest pilot groups, aren’t letting the proverbial grass grow under their feet. Having officially joined the Association in August 2021, they’ve made extensive efforts to meet the needs of the pilot group. Along with electing their pilot leaders, they’ve built a solid committee structure and initiated contract negotiations with management—all in a remarkably short period of time.
There’s good reason for this haste. “Our carrier has plans to rapidly expand its operation,” said Capt. Chris Toornstra, the pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC) chair, who together with his fellow MEC officers are leading the pilots through this dynamic, transitional phase. However, it wasn’t that long ago that Flair was operating a single aircraft with 10 pilots due to both the COVID-19 pandemic and B-737 MAX certification issues. But circumstances have improved, and the airline has positioned itself for growth and expansion.
“The big thing we’re confronting right now is growth and making sure we manage it safely and in the best interest of our members,” Toornstra acknowledged.
As a reflection of that growth, the airline’s pilot ranks increased from 120 to 175 in the span of the last four months, and hiring is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. The carrier is operating 12 B-737s and has announced what it calls the “F50 Plan”—increasing the fleet size to 50 aircraft in five years, with a focus on acquiring B-737 MAX 8s or possibly newer models.
In addition, the airline recently announced plans to begin service to Mexico this year. Flair will offer flights to Cancun and Los Cabos from its operations in Vancouver, B.C.; Abbotsford, B.C.; Edmonton, Alb.; Ottawa, Ont.; and Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. Flair will also add five new city-to-city connections between Canada and the United States: Toronto-Nashville, Edmonton-Nashville, Toronto-Denver, Edmonton-San Francisco, and Vancouver-San Francisco.
To deal with all this breakneck expansion, the pilot group has established within its committee structure a Culture Committee to mentor recently hired pilots in order to maintain the constructive, supportive environment the pilot group has been able to establish.
This healthy work environment includes a reasonably positive relationship with management. “The pilots have established an open dialogue with the company,” noted Toornstra, adding, “The Flight Operations Department routinely communicates and runs plans by us to get our feedback.”
This rapport has also enabled the two parties to come to agreement on initial contract negotiations dates. In fact, opening sessions were conducted in December 2021, just four months after the pilot group joined ALPA. “We remain cautiously optimistic things will go well moving forward,” Toornstra observed.
In addition to the Culture Committee, the pilots have also established a Negotiating Committee, Hotel Committee, Scheduling Committee, and Central Air Safety Committee—important resources members can to turn to when they have questions or need assistance.
In 2021, Flair pilots approached ALPA to initiate the representational process with the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB). On July 20, with 86 percent of the pilots participating in the representation election, 97 percent voted in favour of joining the world’s largest pilot union. The CIRB certified ALPA as the collective bargaining representative for the pilots a month later. The Flair pilot group was then set up as a single council—FLE 250—to represent members, give them a voice at the airline, and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.
The carrier originally began operations as privately owned Flair Air in 2005, offering scheduled all-cargo services between Cuba and Canada. Undergoing several fleet and operational changes over the years, Flair Air eventually became Flair Airlines in 2017. The following year, the carrier moved its headquarters from Kelowna International Airport to Edmonton International Airport, where Flair maintains its current independent, ultra-low-cost carrier operations.