Thursday, December 29, 2016

WestJet to pursue more widebody aircraft following pilots’ approval

Canadian low-cost carrier (LCC) WestJet has been given the go-ahead from its pilots to acquire additional wide-body aircraft.

Calgary-based WestJet currently operates four Boeing 767-300s from destinations in Canada to Hawaii and London Gatwick. The carrier, which was founded in 1996 and operated an all-737 mainline fleet for most of its existence, has said its initial wide-body, long-haul flights that began in January 2016 have been a success. As a result, WestJet has signaled its intention to acquire additional widebody aircraft to launch more long-haul routes.

But the airline’s labor agreement with its pilots did not allow it to add more wide-body aircraft. WestJet has remained non-unionized through its existence. Most WestJet employees own stock in the company and the consistently profitable airline has engaged in regular profit sharing, which has largely led to labor peace at the company.

The carrier’s 1,380 pilots are represented by the WestJet Pilots Association, which collectively bargains on behalf of the carrier’s flight deck crew, but does not consider itself a union and is not affiliated with any larger unions.

In November, the airline’s rank-and-file pilots overwhelming voted to reject a new agreement that would have allowed the carrier to add more wide-body aircraft. WestJet negotiated changes, and a revised agreement was put up for a vote in December. The airline said the pilots accepted the new deal in voting that concluded Dec. 23.

“This agreement … now allows us to proceed with plans to expand our wide-body operations to new destinations in the future,” WestJet said in a statement. “We will now turn our attention to acquiring additional wide-body aircraft.”

WestJet’s pilots have been the target of a unionization campaign by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the largest pilots’ union in the world. “I’m going to go down fighting to prevent the unionization of WestJet,” WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky recently told the Calgary Herald, arguing it does not make sense for “middle men” to get between airline management and the carrier’s employees.

(Aaron Karp - ATWOnline News)

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