Wasaya Pilots
Capt. William Mitchell (Wasaya), center, and F/O Josh Siefert (Wasaya), right, receive ALPA’s 2019 Superior Airmanship Award. Photo: Keith Mellnick

Wasaya Airways pilots enter 2023 looking forward to securing contract gains that will help their airline attract and grow its pilot ranks. Wasaya continues to struggle with attrition as many of the pilots opt to transition to airlines that offer larger aircraft. Enhanced compensation and quality-of-life improvements will be important because Wasaya recruits pilot candidates with the experience necessary to fly this unique style of operation.

“We’re already gearing up for these upcoming contract talks,” said Capt. James Harding, the pilot group’s long-standing Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “The MEC is in the process of circulating a survey to determine our members’ top priorities. With this information, we plan to serve notice to management of our intent to begin bargaining early this year, before the current contract expires next summer.”

Change continues to be a theme for Wasaya, which, in addition to experiencing pilot turnover, is in the process of replacing several vacancies in its Flight Operations Department and senior management staff. “So far the relationship with these groups remains amicable,” Harding noted.

Another transition Wasaya is confronting is the second wave of flight-time/duty-time regulatory changes that Canada implemented on Dec. 12, 2022. “New rules, based on current fatigue science and international standards, have been in place for Subpart 705 [major airlines] operations since 2018,” Harding remarked. As of the end of 2022, these new terms applied to carriers operating under Subparts 704 and 703—those flying aircraft with no more than 19 passengers. “This transition has been a real challenge for us because Wasaya runs such a lean operation,” said Harding.

Another challenge for the Thunder Bay, Ont.-based airline has been the increase of unruly passenger incidents, including one occurring in June 2022 on a flight from Sioux Lookout to Pikangikum, Ont. “We’ve had quite a few of these events, and it’s been a bit of a struggle for passenger travel up north,” noted Harding, who observed that this part of Ontario doesn’t have the same level of law enforcement resources available as those at many of the province’s southern airports.

While the airline’s total pilot count has declined slightly during the past year, the airline did acquire two ATR 72s this past spring. According to Harding, these aircraft were supposed to replace the carrier’s Dash 8 package freighter and its Hawker Siddeley turboprop, but management has since indicated that it wants to retain the latter aircraft.

Wasaya is jointly owned by 12 First Nations in northwestern Ontario and the Exchange Income Corporation (EIC), which also owns all or significant portions of Bearskin Airlines, Calm Air, PAL Airlines/Air Borealis, PAL Aerospace, and Perimeter Aviation. Because of the considerable influence EIC exerts in managing these operations, these carriers’ MEC leaders met in October 2022 to forge an alliance to work collaboratively and share information.

Several Wasaya pilots were honored for their demonstrated flying skills at ALPA’s Air Safety Forum awards banquet held last year in Washington, D.C. Two Wasaya pilot crews received Superior Airmanship Awards for the professional way they managed to overcome operational irregularities.

Capt. Gregory Van Langenhove and F/O Trevor Rentmeester were honored for safely landing their Dash 8 on Jan. 30, 2020, after a damaged left starter generator led to left-side and overhead instrument panel failures. In addition, Capt. William Mitchell and F/O Josh Siefert were recognized for addressing failure indications on their aircraft’s primary and secondary inverters on a 2019 flight, which rendered many of the airplane’s primary instruments inoperable. With the navigation system unavailable, Mitchell cleverly used the ForeFlight app on his smartphone to find the nearest airport.

Wasaya, which began as a simple floatplane operation in the 1980s quickly transitioned to larger turbine aircraft serving an expanded network of Ontario airports. The airline currently offers scheduled passenger service as well as charter and cargo flights.