Holiday travel: Airline industry warns of inevitable flight disruptions as labor shortages drag on | Tech US News

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Caitlin Yardley, The Canadian Press



Posted on Thursday, October 27, 2022 at 1:51 PM EDT





Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2022 at 4:47 PM EDT

OTTAWA – The airline industry is warning that flight disruptions will be inevitable in the upcoming holiday season as labor shortages drag on.

At a parliamentary committee hearing on Wednesday, travel industry representatives said retention problems for certain workers, such as pilots and air traffic controllers, persist into the winter peak season.

Canadian Airline Pilots Association president Tim Perry told parliamentarians that airlines are not doing enough to retain pilots because they have resisted increasing their pay.

To refer to the problem surrounding pilots in this country as a labor shortage is an “oversimplification,” Perry said.

He said airlines rely on temporary foreign workers to fill the employment gap, which in some cases raises concerns about training and safety.

Pilots in other jurisdictions are fundamentally disconnected from their union and can undermine the collective bargaining process as a whole, Perry said.

New jobs numbers from Statistics Canada on Thursday showed the country’s tight labor market continued in August, as vacancies were little changed from July.

The vacancy rate in the transportation storage sector was 5.9 percent in August, down one percentage point from the previous month, but still one of the sectors with the highest vacancy rate.

Canadian Air Traffic Control Association president Nick von Schoenberg told the committee there is a desperate shortage of air traffic controllers that has placed unacceptable demands on workers because there are no longer enough controllers to meet the requirements.

“Historical staff shortages have meant that the system has always relied on a large amount of driver overtime to operate,” von Schoenberg said.

“This is placing unacceptable demands on workers as they are routinely expected to work long days without sufficient support.”

The air traffic controller shortage existed long before the pandemic and won’t be addressed in time for next summer, von Schoenberg said, but it can be mitigated with some creative solutions.

Andrew Gibbons, WestJet’s vice president of external affairs, was also at the committee meeting and said the pandemic was the biggest crisis his company and the industry had faced.

“We’re not out of the woods,” Andrew Gibbons said. “We are still dealing with the effects of this crisis.”

Von Schoenberg said the pace and strength of the recovery in the aviation sector has contributed to the shortage of air traffic controllers, which in turn is contributing to the delays.

He asked NAV Canada for a reliable training system and said the corporation should do whatever it takes to retain staff.

Nav Canada spokesman Brian Boudreau confirmed staffing levels have been an issue at some airports and may have affected service as a result.

The air navigation operator plans to hire 500 new employees this year and aims to train 500 prospects over the next two years, with another 250 already enrolled in Nav Canada’s training program, Boudreau said.

The National Airlines Council of Canada has not commented on the issue of pilot staffing levels.

Representatives from both the board and Nav Canada are scheduled to attend the next parliamentary meeting on the labor shortage on Monday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 27, 2022.

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