Pilots: First Air Should Be Honest about Impact of Job Cuts

Contrary to management’s public statements, First Air’s plan to lay off more than 10 percent of its flight crews could have an extensive negative impact on the airline’s operations.

The airline is being disingenuous when it states that flight crew member layoffs and the closure of First Air’s northernmost jet base will not affect other aircraft types, said FAB MEC chair F/O Devin Lyall.

“These layoffs are a major blow to the pilot group and will have a ripple effect throughout the entire system. Some pilots may opt to displace more junior pilots, which could require even more pilots to transition to different aircraft types and undergo lengthy, expensive retraining. It can’t help but create some disruptions,” Lyall said.

On Nov. 8, First Air management sent layoff notices to 15 of the airline’s 142 pilots and flight engineers. First Air cited economic reasons as justification for the layoffs, and the Company has not yet ruled out the possibility of more job cuts.

Lyall said the union is disappointed that all eight Boeing 737 pilot positions in Yellowknife will be eliminated and replaced by only three extra pilots at the airline’s Edmonton base.

“We understand the economics of the situation, but we were the only airline with 737 crews based in Yellowknife, and it’s very disappointing to see our northern jet base closing,” said Lyall, who is a Lockheed Hercules pilot based in Yellowknife.

First Air also announced plans to cut three crews from its Hercules cargo fleet, which will affect even more pilot and flight engineer positions.

The layoff notices come after failed conciliation talks between the Company and ALPA, which have been at the bargaining table for two years. Over that same period, First Air has had three different chief executive officers and three different Flight Operations vice presidents.

The ALPA chairman said that with so many changes in management in the last few years, there have been several instances where pilots were laid off in attempts to become more efficient, only to be brought back a few months later. “For this round of layoffs to occur, the Company actually had to first recall pilots that were laid off at the beginning of the summer,” Lyall said.

Despite the challenges, First Air pilots and flight engineers remain committed to providing safe, reliable, and efficient aviation services to the North, he said.