A de Havilland Canada DHC-8-300 at Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport. (Photo: Matthew E. Capina)

With the increased availability of COVID-19 vaccines in 2021, Perimeter Aviation began to see an upward trend in passenger loads and charter flights. By late spring, the airline began hiring additional pilots due to increased workload and purchased an additional Dash 8-300, expanding the Dash fleet to 10. “Perimeter is recovering from the pandemic, and our pilot numbers are back to, if not above, prepandemic levels,” said Capt. Riley Box, the pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC) chair.

“The pilots are quite fortunate that the airline hasn’t been significantly affected by COVID and that we’re poised for continued growth this coming year,” noted Box. Perimeter pilots are currently negotiating the terms of opening a new base in Timmons, Ont., in early 2022, with a new flying contract transporting workers to and from a mining community in northern Ontario. On the list for 2022: continued negotiations and collaboration with Bearskin and its pilots to reach a joint collective agreement.

“While things are progressing well on the business side of Perimeter, the MEC is struggling to get on the same page with the company,” Box observed. “We still have many outstanding issues to address with the company, and the pandemic has significantly slowed our negotiations for a joint collective agreement with the pilots of Bearskin Airlines.”

Negotiations have only been conducted virtually with the company to address essential items, such as the vaccine requirement. In August, before calling for a snap election, the federal government announced that all federally regulated employees would be required to be fully vaccinated by October 30.

The MEC immediately engaged with the company to ensure that no pilots faced termination for noncompliance and that they be placed on a six-month leave of absence beginning November 1. “All questions that we have for the company continue to be submitted through its lawyer, who isn’t quick to respond, which effectively slows down the process,” said Box.

“The MEC continues to advocate on our members’ behalf and to work toward a more inclusive process,” Box added, “however, management has typically excluded the MEC from any decision-making affecting the pilots. MEC leaders are working diligently to ensure that we get back on track with the company, and we expect to secure a joint collective agreement with Bearskin pilots sometime this year.”

The past year also saw labor upheaval between Perimeter flight attendants and the company. In September, the flight attendants voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike action in order to be prepared on very short notice to strike if negotiations fell through. The MEC stood in solidarity with the flight attendants, and they were able to come to an agreement with the company without having to strike.

Like most Canadian carriers, Perimeter did experience a decrease in travel to its many destinations in 2021. The airline flies to vulnerable and remote communities, and the company put into place extra precautions when operating its more northern routes due to concerns of potentially spreading COVID to these far north communities. “Because many of the communities Perimeter serves don’t have access year-round to roads to move goods, the airline is vital to transporting needed supplies,” said Box.

As the pilot group enters 2022, a new slate of MEC leaders will take office: Box as captain representative and chair, F/O Jason Silva as first officer representative and vice chair, and Capt. Brandon Oberdorfer as secretary-treasurer. Their term begins in March.