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Show us details, pilots say of low-cost carrier deal

Air Canada aircraft are seen on the tarmac at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS/MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

Air Canada pilots are keen to see the details before deciding whether to support the airline's proposal for a low-cost carrier.

"Our position is, show me how the business plan makes sense. There's no meat on the bones for us," said Captain Paul Strachan, president of the Air Canada Pilots Association.

In May, ACPA members rejected a tentative pact that would have paved the way for Air Canada to start a discount leisure airline. Capt. Strachan said the union, which resumed bargaining talks on Nov. 23, is leery about rushing into any decision about accepting reduced wages at the proposed low-cost division.

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"We would sign a non-disclosure agreement and we would get our own financial people in there and test management's analysis. Is the low-cost carrier going to affect the mainline flying, and if yes, how much? You have to be forthcoming with more information if you want a serious discussion," Capt. Strachan said in an interview Tuesday.

He made the comments after Air Canada chief executive officer Calin Rovinescu wrote a letter to employees cautioning about troubles in the airline industry, most recently at Fort Worth, Tex.-based American Airlines Inc., which filed for bankruptcy protection last week in the United States.

"We must be open to new ways of doing business," wrote Mr. Rovinescu, who likened American's struggles to Air Canada's own challenges.

Capt. Strachan described the timing of the CEO's message as opportunistic, given that ACPA is now in its second round of labour negotiations, this time with the aid of a federally appointed conciliator. "Mr. Rovinescu is drawing on the occasion of what is a very serious event for our colleagues at American Airlines and exploiting it to lay a framework for a discussion here in Canada," Capt. Strachan said.

Last month, Mr. Rovinescu said the race is on to compete for leisure passengers as established airlines seek to create discount units. The new route map might include underserved destinations in Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Air Canada pilots and other employees already sacrificed during 18 months of restructuring in 2003-04 and helped the airline overcome a pension funding crisis in 2009, Capt. Strachan said.

Bargaining talks between Air Canada and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers are also headed for conciliation.

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"While conciliation can be a normal process during bargaining, [Air Canada]filed not because we have arrived at an impasse but because this will allow them to gain control," said the IAMAW, which represents mechanics and ground workers.

Pilots will be in a strike position as early as next February.

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About the Author

Brent Jang is a business reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. He joined the Globe in 1995. His former positions include transportation reporter in Toronto, energy correspondent in Calgary and Western columnist for Report on Business. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway student newspaper. Mr. More

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