From Atop Parliament Hill

By ALPA Staff

The last year has been extremely difficult for those employed in the aviation industry, one of the hardest hit sectors from the COVID-19 pandemic. During this challenging time, ALPA Canada has remained the most trusted voice of the piloting profession in Canada and an industry leader in its advocacy and engagement with government.

ALPA Canada’s advocacy efforts during this unprecedented time have focused on specific key areas: (1) how best to address the continuing impact of the pandemic on the industry and its workers and (2) to promote the industry’s recovery, growth, and sustainability postpandemic.

COVID’s impact on the aviation sector has required a comprehensive and coordinated advocacy strategy containing clear and consistent messaging and communication directed to the public, stakeholders, and legislators and regulators at both the federal and provincial levels of government.

Over the last year, ALPA Canada has worked to ensure that pilot issues arising from the pandemic are front and centre with the federal government. ALPA leaders have devoted a considerable amount of time and taken a measured approach to ensure legislators and lawmakers across the country acknowledge and take action to address these issues.

Government Engagement

Engaging with legislators on key ALPA priorities continues to be a top priority. Earlier this year, ALPA Canada welcomed the appointment of the Honourable Omar Alghabra as Canada’s new minister of Transport. ALPA leaders have been engaging with Minister Alghabra directly and regularly to provide the pilot perspective regarding the impact of government policy and issues on the aviation sector during this financially devastating crisis—for both companies and workers—and to reinforce the important role ALPA plays in aviation safety, security, and sustainability of the industry. In addition, ALPA Canada continues to interact with public officials and federal legislators, including the prime minister, the current and former minister of Finance, the former minister of Transport, the ministers of Health and Public Safety, Transport Committee members, and other Members of Parliament.

Parliamentary Committees—An Opportunity to Amplify ALPA Priorities

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure, and Communities undertook two important aviation industry-related hearings over the last few months, “Aircraft Certification Process” and “The Impact of COVID on the Aviation Sector,” both of which Capt. Tim Perry, ALPA Canada president, appeared before to provide expert testimony to committee members.

The committee recently released its reports on the two hearings: “A Study of Aircraft Certification in Canada in Light of Two Incidents Involving Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302” and “Emerging from the Crisis: A Study on the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Air Transport Sector.” The reports contained recommendations from Perry’s testimony on ALPA’s priorities for the piloting profession. These recommendations included “that the government of Canada work with industry and labour groups to devise a recovery plan for the aviation sector; that the government of Canada work with public health, the industry, and labour groups to establish an aviation restart strategy; that any financial relief provided by the government of Canada to the aviation sector, as part of its restart strategy, be directly tied to protecting jobs and rehiring workers; and that the minister of Transport work closely with union representatives in devising and negotiating sectoral support for the aviation industry.”

Perry’s testimony highlighted that “Canada depends on air transportation perhaps more than other countries in the world. It’s in the public interest that the industry not only survives but is in a position to thrive when COVID is behind us. I think it should go without saying that an industry that has the capacity to invest in its future remain environmentally, socially, and financially sustainable—and then is able to recover—is in everyone’s interest.”

ALPA Canada also provided a written submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance for its prefederal budget consultations. The committee’s stakeholder engagement was an opportunity for ALPA leaders to advocate for inclusion of industry relief measures in the context of COVID-19.

Unfortunately, what was announced in Budget 2021 didn’t reflect the full extent of what ALPA Canada and other aviation industry stakeholders were seeking. However, it did include an extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program, which was welcome news as CEWS has continued to benefit many ALPA members, both active and furloughed.

Pilot Partisans in Action

Over the last 16 months, ALPA members have repeatedly answered the call to take action to defend the industry and support the piloting profession by communicating ALPA Canada’s priorities and issues with their elected representatives.

ALPA Canada’s numerous Calls to Action since April 2020 have resulted in outreach to each and every Member of Parliament, provincial chief medical officers, provincial health ministers, and premiers in Canada. Pilots have engaged through tweets, e-mails, and virtual meetings on numerous COVID-related issues affecting the industry and the piloting profession, including vaccination priority for pilots, recognition of essential worker status for pilots, financial assistance for airlines, and the need for detailed information regarding an industry restart plan.

In addition to ALPA’s Calls to Action, approximately 15,000 signatures from Canadians across the country were collected between September and November 2020 to support an ALPA Canada parliamentary petition urging the federal government to take action to assist Canada’s aviation industry. The petition called for implementing an aviation-specific financial sustainability program with strong labour protections that provide direct support to airlines impacted by COVID-19; leading and implementing a national aviation strategy to help the airline industry recovery from the pandemic to ensure the stabilization and continued viability of the aviation sector in Canada; and implementing a sustainable approach to safe border controls that uses a dynamic, rigorous approach to make certain that border measures match the risk profile of the countries from which travelers are arriving.

The petition provided an opportunity for ALPA Canada members and other Canadians to take action and show their support for Canada’s hard-hit aviation industry. While the government’s response to the petition stopped short of any commitment to take action, the petition reflects ALPA Canada’s leadership in representing its members and the industry.

Throughout the pandemic, pilot engagement has not only amplified and reinforced ALPA Canada’s message to the government, it’s further established ALPA as the leading voice of the piloting profession in Canada.

Working with industry Partners

Over the last year, ALPA Canada has worked with a coalition of industry partners to communicate key COVID-related issues and to call on the federal government to implement measures to assist the sector and its employees.

ALPA leaders joined efforts with other industry stakeholders, including UNIFOR, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (Air Canada component), and the Air Canada Pilots Association, through joint initiatives—letters, news releases, press conferences, and rallies—to urge the government to support the aviation sector and its nearly 150,000 workers.

Most recently, ALPA Canada and its coalition partners joined with the National Airlines Council of Canada to write to the nation’s lawmakers regarding the need for an effective path forward for the continued safe operation of the aviation sector during and after the pandemic, including a robust testing regime tied to science- and data-based decision-making concerning quarantine measures and border restrictions. The coalition also expressed the importance of communicating with the sector as new measures are contemplated.

ALPA Canada will continue to collaborate with other pilot groups, industry associations, and like-minded aviation stakeholders to further amplify ALPA’s priorities.

ALPA’s Voice Has Been Heard

ALPA Canada leaders continue to call on the federal government to take the lead on a coordinated safe return to air travel that uses a science-based, physician-endorsed approach and incorporates best practices for safe air travel in this new reality.

ALPA’s position since the start of the pandemic has remained consistent: implement an aviation-specific financial assistance program with strong labour protections that provides direct support to airlines significantly impacted by the pandemic. The government listened and addressed ALPA Canada’s concerns as demonstrated in the assistance agreements between the government of Canada and those airlines seeking financial assistance.

While the Canadian government has signaled the possibility of easing measures at the borders, it continues to work through various scenarios and is waiting “until the time is right” to do so. The Canadian government continues to reiterate that any decisions it takes on easing restrictions will be based on the advice from public-health partners at Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, vaccination rates, and issues surrounding “variants of concern.”

Meanwhile, Canada’s airlines and aviation workers continue to wait on the government to announce a full and comprehensive restart plan for the sector. However, as speculation grows over the possibility of a snap federal election this fall, a restart plan for the industry appears to be less of a priority for the government at this time.

ALPA Canada has worked tirelessly over the course of the pandemic to support its members and the airline industry. ALPA will continue to champion the piloting profession and safeguard and promote the industry now and beyond the pandemic.

This article was originally published in the August 2021 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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