An Air Canada Express Bombardier CRJ700 prepares to land at San Diego International Airport. (Photo: Markus Mainka)
Throughout the pandemic, Jazz Aviation pilots have focused on preserving the maximum possible number of sustainable jobs, ensuring the long-term viability of their workplace and collective agreement, and working to bring every furloughed member back to the airline as soon as possible. The pilots’ engagement helped accelerate the company’s recalls, which assisted Air Canada in resuming operations as the aviation industry began to recover.
“Our ability to negotiate use of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy [CEWS] for our pilots, and also include benefits coverage and all accruals, provided a measure of security for our furloughed pilots until we had the ability to negotiate their expedited return to work,” said Capt. Claude Buraglia, the pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “In addition to providing this measure of security, we also negotiated the integration of 25 E175s and all pilots from Sky Regional Airlines. This will provide opportunity and security for our company and all members well into the future. Successfully completing these negotiations during a pandemic, with all the related obstacles, was only possible due to the strong relationships that we’ve built with our stakeholders.”
In February 2020, the Jazz pilots’ MEC was in the final stages of integrating pilots from Toronto, Ont.-based carrier Air Georgian, which was part of a larger agreement amending and further solidifying Jazz’s capacity purchase agreement (CPA) with Air Canada.
Within a month of completing the Air Georgian integration, the pandemic began to unfold and Buraglia and his leadership team switched gears, managing the consequences of international border closings, travel bans, and mandatory quarantines. The crisis the company faced was clearly bleak in May 2020, when Air Canada reported its second quarter passenger volume at just 4 percent of its second quarter 2019 volume.
However, the pilot leaders had spent weeks positioning themselves to best represent their members for negotiations with the company. Their diligence ultimately led to 21 COVID-19 relief letters of understanding to date, including several under which the company would continue to use the federal government’s CEWS to support furloughed pilots, and a memorandum of agreement and memorandum of settlement completing the integration of Sky Regional’s aircraft and pilots.
An important part of the agreements integrating the Sky Regional operation was a special separation program (SSP) that provided a viable option for members who wished to take early retirement. Approximately 5 percent of Jazz pilots applied and were awarded an SSP, and all retired prior to Aug. 31, 2021.
In August 2021, the federal government changed the eligibility criteria for CEWS, and August 28 would be the last day the program was available to furloughed Jazz pilots. The MEC was able to negotiate an August 29 return to payroll for all pilots, regardless of when the company had the ability to train the returning pilots.
The airline currently employs 1,640 pilots based in Vancouver, B.C.; Calgary, Alb.; Toronto, Ont.; and Montréal, Qué.; operating CRJ200s/900s, Dash 8-400s, and Embraer E175s. Jazz’s final revenue flight of the Dash 8-300 for Air Canada is expected early in 2022. The pilots anticipate that increased flying and pilot retirements will require Jazz to begin hiring once training capacity allows later this year. They also expect that pilot flow to Air Canada will resume in 2022, further increasing the need for hiring.
“I anticipate that there will be further challenges as we progress toward recovery from the pandemic,” Buraglia observed, “however, with most challenges also come opportunity. We expect that in 2022 and 2023 we’ll be able to build on our recent success of becoming Air Canada’s sole CPA provider.”