A view of the sunset from the galley window of a Pivot aircraft. Photo courtesy of Pivot Airlines

As 2022 began, Capt. Tim Perry, ALPA Canada president and custodian for the Pivot Airlines pilot group, remained optimistic that the hardships the pilots and the airline had endured throughout the COVID-19 pandemic would soon be behind them.

The airline, already busy providing group charter flights from Toronto Pearson International Airport and the Region of Waterloo International Airport, planned to grow its operations and its pilot ranks. The company announced the launch of scheduled service between Waterloo and Ottawa, Ont., beginning in February and between Waterloo and Montréal, Qué., beginning in March.

Unfortunately, a trip in early April to the Dominican Republic had a devasting effect on the company and the lives of five Pivot crewmembers, including two pilots. The flightcrew members were detained on April 5 after discovering and reporting suspected contraband on their aircraft. The crew followed all local and international protocols and regulations when immediately reporting their discovery. By reporting the finding, the crew also helped avert a potential air disaster caused by the weight and location of the suspected contraband.

From the early stages of the incident, ALPA representatives began working around the clock, alongside Pivot management and other associated stakeholders and unions, to bring the crew home while the investigation continued.

Perry, supported by ALPA staff from the Government Affairs, Engineering & Air Safety, Legal, and Communications Departments, assisted Pivot Airlines in its efforts to work with consular representatives from the Department of Global Affairs, the minister of Foreign Affairs, other elected government representatives, Dominican authorities, and the news media to have the crew released.

“The detainment of the Pivot crewmembers has left them exposed to criminal elements on the ground in the Dominican Republic,” said Perry at the time of the detainment. “Every day that passes brings new threats to their safety, well-being, and mental health. We remain deeply concerned about our colleagues and fellow Canadians. “We ask all of our ALPA Canada members for their assistance by elevating the issue within the office of Canada’s Foreign Affairs minister and with their local member of Parliament, demanding they do everything they can to bring our fellow Canadians home.”

Nearly seven months later, despite being out of prison and on bail, the flight crew remained detained and unable to leave the country. ALPA Canada, along with Pivot management, other unions, police, and government officials, continued to work through all available means and diplomatic channels to bring the crewmembers home.

Evidence uncovered by private investigators hired by the airline strongly suggested no wrongdoing by the crew, and on August 30, the company’s lawyers filed for the case against the crew to be dismissed. Unfortunately, Dominican authorities continued to ignore the evidence presented to them.

On October 20, during a follow-up bail hearing, the court-appointed translator failed to show up—for the fourth consecutive time. This meant, once again, that the lawyers representing the crew were unable to state for the court why the case should be dismissed.

“We’re very frustrated with the lack of progress being made by the Canadian government and are concerned by the actions of authorities in the Dominican Republic,” Perry declared. “Once again, we’re repeating our demand that the government of Canada act more expeditiously in repatriating these Canadians. ALPA Canada has lost faith in the Dominican authorities and the judicial process and is losing faith in the diplomatic channels and means we’ve exhaustively employed to bring these Canadians home.”

Within days of ALPA Canada applying more public pressure, the Dominican prosecutor finally announced she’d be filing a motion to drop the case against all crewmembers. After additional procedural steps were taken, the crew was released from custody and returned home on December 1 to Canada in time to celebrate the holidays with family and friends.