To curb the staffing shortages brought forth by the pandemic, airlines worldwide have resorted to hiring foreign flight and cabin crews as their rebound to help cope with the rising demand for air travel. Ontario-based Sunwing Airlines also joined the bandwagon after forecasting that it would need a larger workforce to efficiently carry out flight operations during the expected winter holiday travel surge.

However, the union for the airline’s pilots is against the idea and has urged the Canadian government to prevent Sunwing Airlines’ action. Barret Armann, President of the union, said:

“The plan to hire non-Canadian pilots is a punch in the face. The Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan needs to step in and stop this.”

What does the union want?

If it isn’t apparent enough, the union has insisted that Canadian carriers carry out more significant efforts to hire pilots from their home country instead of outsourcing foreign talent. The greater opposition to Sunwing was after the union found out that the low-cost carrier had applied with the government to bring in 65 foreign pilots this winter as temporary foreign workers after suffering a slight staffing issue during the summer.

While it is unclear if Sunwing has already started the formal process of hiring the asked foreign pilots, the number asked was not what alarmed the union. Instead, the union was more angered by how the budget carrier would be paid approximately 75% more than its Canadian pilots. And on the contrary, the union has pointed out that the country’s biggest airline, flag carrier Air Canada, has not requested to hire foreign pilots, indicating that there is no shortage of local crew for Sunwing to hire.

Sunwing 737 MAX

Using foreign pilots as aviation rebounds to cope with the demand is an especially sensitive topic for unions in Canada and the US. Photo: Getty Images

Why can’t Sunwing Airlines source locally?

It is no shocker knowing that, like all airlines worldwide, the Canadian leisure carrier was forced to let go of several employees to keep afloat during the pandemic. However, once it was headed for recovery in this post-pandemic era, hiring back the required flight deck stripes has proven challenging. One significant challenge was that for the pilots furloughed during the pandemic, most had to reboot their qualifications, a training process that takes several weeks at the least.

Another challenge that has been especially challenging for smaller low-cost carriers like Sunwing was that most furloughed pilots preferred to jump planes to more prominent airlines like Air Canada, Air Transat, and WestJet. And since Sunwing is amid a complicated merger process with WestJet, it can be deduced that pilots seeking jobs would seek from more stable airlines that aren’t in such current complex matters.

So while there may be an abundant pool of local pilots that Sunwing could recruit from, it would be an entirely different matter if the local pilots do wish to fly for Sunwing or another Canadian airline instead. The staffing shortages have been terrible for the budget carrier resulting in lengthy delays and quite the operational meltdowns in July. Given that it might be unable to get the required number of local crews and not want to repeat the chaos during the summer, Sunwing might have been left with no choice but to hire pilots outside Canada.

Sunwing Boeing 737

Sunwing’s chaos in July resulted in delays lasting at least a day, causing the budget carrier to have flight backlogs amid the staff crunch. Photo: Sunwing Airlines

Bottom line

Although Sunwing Airlines could go about ways such as offering to increase the pay for Canadian pilots to raise its recruitment attractiveness, the ongoing mess of a merger might make such actions difficult. In a way, Sunwing seems to be at a crossroads. With winter just a few months away and demand forecasted to boom even bigger than the summer, the low-cost carrier remains hopeful it can amicably resolve its staffing issues for a smoother year-end holiday season.

Source: Skift


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