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Air Canada pilots concerned about low cost carrier plan

July 31, 2012, Toronto - Air Canada pilots are concerned that the airline's launch of a low-cost carrier could threaten their job security, the union said Tuesday as the plans came closer to fruition after an arbitrator sided with the airline in a labour dispute.

July 31, 2012  By The Canadian Press

A federal arbitrator chose Air Canada's final offer Monday, imposing a five-year collective agreement that includes, among other things, provisions allowing the airline to create a budget carrier.

The airline says the agreement, effective until April 2016, will give it the flexibility it needs to compete with budget carrier WestJet, which operates mostly domestic flights and doesn't have to deal with union and pension woes.

"Another piece has fallen into place with this arbitration decision,'' said Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick.

"The industry has changed and a lot of low-cost competition has arisen around the world and in Canada. It's no secret WestJet has a fairly significant cost advantage over Air Canada, so we need to create a vehicle that will be competitive.''


Air Canada's top executives have said the launch of a discount carrier is a top priority, but details about the airline's plans are

"We're looking at our options,'' said Fitzpatrick. "Our president has said repeatedly that we intend to participate in this
market, and how we'll do that is really what we're working on now.''

Although Air Canada's offer indicates the low-cost carrier will employ workers from the Air Canada Pilots Association, the union's president says it will be "under drastically different terms of employment.''

"While (the low-cost carrier) may employ ACPA pilots, it'll be under an entirely different set of work rules,'' said Paul Strachan.

"And, in the absence of a business plan or any sort of commercial projections (from Air Canada), I have to assume that's the whole point of the exercise.''

Air Canada has tried the discount route before with its launch of the now-defunct Zip Airlines.

At the airline's annual general meeting in June, chief executive officer Calin Rovinescu said Zip failed because it had a limited
number of planes to battle WestJet.

The pilots are one of two major labour groups at Air Canada that have recently been forced to accept the airline's final offer in
labour negotiations. The other union is the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents repair and ramp crews.

Both disputes were sent to binding arbitration ordered by the federal government, which brought in back-to-work legislation after Air Canada locked out the pilots and the Machinists announced they would go on strike earlier this year.

Air Canada has been beset by labour problems for most of the last year with all of its major unions, which has hurt both its
reputation and its share price.

The airline's shares rose more than eight per cent on the Toronto Stock Exchange in early trading Tuesday, but levelled out to $1.13 by the afternoon, an increase of five cents.


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