A pair of Canadian airline companies are struggling to strike deals with unions representing their respective pilots and flight dispatchers. 

The pilots’ union representing WestJet Encore’s flight deck crews on 10 May rejected a tentative contract with the airline, a move that WestJet maintains will not immediately affect its regional operations. 

The deal was rejected by 53% of participating Encore pilots, who are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA), as they were “underwhelmed by WestJet Group’s attempts at using compensation to gloss over many of the core structural issues of the operation”. 

Diederik Pen, WestJet Group’s chief executive, says that the deal rejected by Encore pilots was structured to address their ”unique concerns”. The company is disappointed by the vote’s outcome, he adds, as the deal is “distinctly competitive within Canada’s airline industry”. 

Source: Martin Kulcsar Creative Commons

WestJet Encore operates a fleet of De Havilland Canada Dash 8-400s out of Calgary International airport 

Union leadership acknowledges that the contract included fair compensation and scheduling concessions. However, Carin Kenny, chair of the WestJet Encore master executive council, says that airline management ”isn’t doing enough to address the ongoing pilot attraction and retention issues and low morale that remain at our airline”.

Pilot retention has been a nagging issue for regional carriers across North America, as they often serve as stepping stones for pilots progressing to flying narrowbody and widebody jets for major airlines. 

Negotiations between the pilots’ union and Calgary-headquartered airline company will continue. 

”While we will meet with ALPA to determine next steps, we will hold firm on what is reasonable to ensure we can continue providing meaningful employment and affordable air travel to Canadians,” Pen says. 

Labour issues are also proving problematic for fellow Canadian airline company Transat AT, which recently lowered its margin forecast for the full year of 2024.

The parent of Montreal-based leisure carrier Air Transat cites Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan issues, market pressure on airline unit revenues and ”the consequences of union strike threats” as reasons for its gloomier outlook. 

Air Transat has been struggling to reach an agreement with its airline dispatchers represented by the Canadian Airline Dispatchers Association. The union voted 100% in favour of a strike following a 21-day cooling off period that ended 23 April – and a failure to settle on a contract since the previous one expired in October 2022. 

The company will discuss its performance and strategies in further detail during a 6 June quarterly earnings briefing with investors.