Wasaya Pilots
A Hawker Siddeley at Wiebenville Companies’ Norton Airport for fuel delivery. (Photo: Capt. James Harding [Wasaya])

Last year began with many Wasaya Airways pilots on furlough due to the continuing uncertainty of the pandemic. Scheduled work was reduced due to stay-at-home orders by the province of Ontario; however, the airline’s freight and bulk-fuel operations increased, which required the company to subcharter other operators to keep up with demand, and provided the company and its pilots with a new opportunity.

With this increased demand, the company put into test use a B-190 in all-cargo configuration to supplement operations. Upon evaluation of the trial’s success, Wasaya purchased two B-190s from its lease buyout and one Hawker Siddeley HS 748. The company also plans to replace its Dash 8-100PF with one ATR to deliver freight and will use Dash 8s for passenger operations. The airline also intends to increase hiring in the new year.

In spring 2021, when the COVID-19 vaccine supply was more readily available, priority was given to distributing the vaccine to the First Nations communities. This resulted in increased work and a callback of numerous pilots from furlough. “Operation Remote Immunity” had multiple Wasaya aircraft depart daily from Monday to Friday from Thunder Bay and Sioux Lookout, Ont., to the northern First Nation communities with doctors, nurses, and paramedics being transported to administer the Moderna vaccine to the residents.

Due to reduced scheduled service to the north, the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority began chartering aircraft to supply community nursing stations with staff and medical supplies. Wasaya flies charter flights to 17 communities three times a week.

By early summer, the airline had recalled all furloughed pilots to active flying, and the company acquired extra charter work for Valard Construction, which is building the infrastructure to connect rural northern communities with electricity. Wasaya purchased an ATR 42 from fellow Exchange Income Corporation carrier Calm Air to keep up with the increased freight demand. This increase in demand also brought about significant internal movement with position upgrades.

The MEC held elections during the summer, and Capt. James Harding was elected chair, Capt. Anthony Luna vice chair, and Capt. Shawn Lall secretary-treasurer.

“Our committee structure is in full swing with Negotiating Committee members working on a letter of understanding to protect a pilot’s seniority while on medical leave. And with the possibility of fleet expansion and eliminating the 703-category aircraft, it will be essential to protect the pilots’ contractual rights through this transition,” remarked Harding. “The Jumpseat Committee has been actively working with MyID Travel to sign a contract and secure jumpseat privileges for the pilot group. It’s an important objective because about 40 percent of the Wasaya pilot group is on rotation.”

The MEC has been fortunate to see an increase in volunteers for its committees. “As we move into the new year, one of our priorities is to ramp up training for new committee volunteers,” Harding noted.

In late summer, the MEC met with the company after the federal government’s August 13 announcement regarding a vaccine mandate. The company was hesitant about implementing the mandate and seemed to hope that it would be scrapped after the federal election. With the reelection of the liberal government, the company then delayed its decision on the vaccine mandate, awaiting comment from Transport Canada. The company finally issued a vaccine policy requiring employees to be vaccinated by the October 30 deadline.

With COVID travel restrictions being lifted and the company’s increased business, the airline has been experiencing a shortage of qualified ramp and deicing support staff and customer service agents. “This caused some challenges for flight crews as we moved into the winter season,” observed Harding. The airline has been working to resolve the issue.

Going into 2022, the future appears bright for Wasaya and the pilot group, which is looking forward to resuming in-person meetings and reconnecting face-to-face.