The union representing De Havilland Canada’s manufacturing workers has threatened to strike as early as 27 July over issues related to potential layoffs and De Havilland’s planned relocation of Dash 8 production.

De Havilland, whose parent acquired the Dash 8 programme in 2019 from Bombardier, has been “decommissioning” its production site in the Downsview section of Toronto. It plans to relocate production to a still-undisclosed site.

Unifor, which represents some 700 De Havilland workers, confirms a strike could occur as early as tomorrow if it fails to reach an agreement with De Havilland, or if the parties do not agree to extend negotiations.

Dash 8-400-c-De Havilland Canada

Source: De Havilland Canada

Because De Havilland has already been winding down Dash 8 production, the effect of a strike on its operations remains unclear.

Reached by FlightGlobal, Unifor deferred further comment but pointed to a 20 July statement.

“Unifor is seeking a commitment from the company to maintain production within a reasonable radius of Toronto if manufacturing resumes,” says that statement. “The future of the Dash 8 programme remains a highly contentious issue at the negotiating table.”

De Havilland has long planned to cease production at Downsview. The company’s lease on the manufacturing facility expires this year, and the site’s owner plans to decommission the adjacent runway by June 2023.

De Havilland, a division of Canada’s Longview Aviation Capital, purchased the Dash 8 programme from Bombardier in 2019 for $300 million. But, prior to selling the programme, Bombardier also sold the Downsview site, then leased it back. The lease expires this year, though De Havilland previously said it could have extended the deal for two years.

But in early 2021, citing pandemic-related market conditions, De Havilland said it would stop producing Dash 8s by mid-year after fulfilling outstanding orders. The company added that it was “exploring a number of excellent production site options in Canada”. De Havilland says production is not yet “officially paused”.

Meanwhile, Unifor has been negotiating with De Havilland on issues related to “the future of the Dash 8 programme and a layoff mitigation plan”, the union says. In late June, the parties agreed to a 30-day extension of the existing contract, according to De Havilland.

“The union urges [De Havilland], the federal and Ontario governments to protect aerospace workers by ensuring that the Dash 8 programme continues within the region it has operated since 1984,” Unifor’s 20 July statement says.

De Havilland has been “working closely with union leaders over several weeks to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement that benefits all parties”, the airframer says.

It adds that an agreement must account for market and manufacturing realities.

“From the moment of that land sale, aircraft manufacturing at Downsview was on borrowed time. De Havilland Canada’s owners invested on this basis out of confidence in the long-term potential of the aircraft programme, but the company has been clear since the outset that change was inevitable,” De Havilland tells FlightGlobal on 26 July.

The agreement with Unifor “must reflect the need to transform the company in the face of the global aviation industry’s challenging operating context, the market environment for new aircraft and the fact that the Downsview production site had been sold by its prior owner,” it says.

“The need to transform” the Dash 8 programme extends to before De Havilland’s acquisition, the company adds.

De Havilland says it “maintains an optimistic outlook” for the Dash 8, but “cannot and will not rush to a decision on future production location, nor negotiate a site plan in public”.

“Our negotiating team has returned to the bargaining table with an eye to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that benefits all parties,” says De Havilland.

“Regional aircraft like the Dash 8 have a pivotal role to play in a rapid economic recovery and will pave the way for cleaner, more sustainable travel in the future,” adds Unifor. “If De Havilland’s workforce, their skills and their families are kicked to the curb, Canadian-made aircraft won’t be a part of that recovery.”

Story updated on 26 July to add details about the production pause.