Canada’s WestJet says it has started to ground planes and is cancelling flights ahead of a looming pilot’s strike which could go ahead from 3 am MST on Friday.
In a statement, the airline said it was “taking down its network” to avoid abandoning aircraft and stranding customers and crew in remote locations should the walkout by pilots represented by the ALPA union go ahead as planned.
The union issued a 72-hour strike notice to WestJet management on Monday following nine months of contract negotiations which have ended in stalemate. Unlike in the United States, under Canada’s Labour Code, WestJet pilots be legally allowed to stage a strike without formal approval from the government.
“After nine months of negotiating, management still fails to understand today’s labour market conditions,” slammed Capt. Bernard Lewall, chair of the WestJet ALPA Master Executive Council.
“Without the economic and job security improvements our pilots require, WestJet will be parking planes, as they will not have enough pilots to operate them or accomplish its own growth strategy,” Capt. Lewall continued.
Lewall warned that the airline could be effectively shut down unless an eleventh-hour settlement is agreed between the two sides.
That, however, looks increasingly unlikely after WestJet chief executive Alexis von Hoensbroech warned that the airline had reached a “critical impasse” with the union.
Hoensbroech said the airline had “been left with no choice but to begin taking the painful steps of preparing for the reality of a work stoppage.”
The ALPA union has been pushing for big pay raises, claiming that a WestJet pilot is, on average, resigning every 18 hours in order to work for the airline’s competitors. The union essentially argues that WestJet has to pay a lot more if it is to have any hope of retaining its flight crew.
WestJet says it remains “unequivocally committed to achieving a deal as soon as possible”, but Hoensbroech cautioned that the airline would attempt to weather any stoppage “for as long as it takes” in order to achieve what it views as a reasonable settlement with its pilot’s workforce.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.