Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has evolved with new information. The WestJet Group on June 9, 2023, confirmed that it will begin its integration efforts of Swoop, announcing that the airline will operate until Oct. 28, 2023. Please click here for the latest details.
The tentative deal that was reached on Friday (May 19) between WestJet and the union representing its pilots may have averted a strike, but it may also alter the future of Canada’s aviation landscape with the possible closure of budget carrier Swoop, according to a document.
PAX has obtained an executive summary of the four-year collective agreement between the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and The WestJet Group, and one of the terms is that Swoop's flight operations be fully integrated into WestJet’s mainline by October 2024.
According to the outline – a bullet-point document that is being circulated among WestJet pilots – the terms state that Swoop’s integration will begin with five tail transfers this fall.
The agreement, to be clear, has not yet been formalized – both parties are awaiting a ratification vote to be put forward to membership.
READ MORE: “A roller-coaster 24 hours”: Agents sound off on WestJet pilot deal, booking challenges
Swoop, an ultra low-cost carrier owned by WestJet, was announced in September of 2017 and began flights in June of 2018.
Its 16-aircraft fleet is made up of Boeing 737-800 next generation and 737-MAX series, which fly to 32 destinations in Canada, the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Swoop flights, at the start of 2022, were also made available to the trade for booking WestJet Vacations packages.
Job security, scheduling and compensation were among the key issues raised in the ALPA’s negotiations with WestJet over the past eight months.
One could assume that integrating Swoop into WestJet’s mainline is part of an effort to equalize pilot compensation.
Swoop pilots are currently paid less than those who fly for mainline WestJet.
And, with WestJet’s recent takeover of Sunwing, there were worries within the union that the merger could result in yet another class of pilots, working on a different pay scale.
Eliminating Swoop, too, would only make Sunwing stronger because the two brands have somewhat similar operations.
It's also possible that WestJet decides to keep the Swoop name and just pay those pilots a WestJet-level wage.
As the tentative agreement between the WestJet Group and ALPA has not yet been ratified by its membership, WestJet is unable to disclose any terms, stated WestJet spokesperson Madison Kruger in a statement to PAX on Monday afternoon.
PAX has also reached out to the ALPA for comment but did not hear back by press time.
The deal will “serve us really well”
Speaking on an episode of the PIREP podcast last Friday, Capt. Bernard Lewall, chair of the WestJet ALPA Master Executive Council, said the Agreement in Principle that has been signed with WestJet will “serve us really well.”
He said issues of scope and compensation have been addressed, noting that WestJet pilots now have a pension option.
READ MORE: WestJet pilots reach 11th-hour deal
In terms of value, the ALPA, which represents more than 1,800 pilots at WestJet and Swoop, has managed to capture an additional $400 million dollars of “new money” for WestJet pilots over four years, said Captain Chris Tholl, who also appeared on the podcast.
The contract will help solve WestJet’s pilot attraction and retention issues, the union says.
The WestJet ALPA leaders also believe the agreement delivers on better job security and more flexible schedules to allow for a better work/life balance that are consistent with collective agreements.
WestJet cancelled more than 100 flights last Thursday (May 18) in anticipation of the work stoppage that was eventually avoided.
However, by early Friday morning, hours after the tentative deal was reached, 97 per cent of WestJet's flights were still cancelled, Capt. Lewall revealed on the podcast.
In a statement that same day, WestJet said it was ramping up operations "as quickly and efficiently as possible" just as the long weekend kicked in.
However, the airline noted that a full resumption of flights would take time.
Alexis von Hoensbroech, CEO of the WestJet Group, posted a tweet on Sunday (May 21) that indicated that operations were restored.
"Back in the air, great to see so many @WestJet planes in the air right now, our network is fully back to normal!" von Hoensbroech wrote. "Thanks to all WestJetters and Swoopsters who stood up to crew our flights after the unfortunate partial network takedown on Thu/Fri amid looming labour action."
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