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Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu. Air Canada opened it's new global operations centre to the media during a tour on Aug. 20, 2013. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu. Air Canada opened it's new global operations centre to the media during a tour on Aug. 20, 2013. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Air Canada throws out the manual on its way to recovery Add to ...

Air Canada is putting its cockpits on a diet. The bulky manuals that pilots haul onto planes will be replaced with tablets beginning next year.

The move will save weight, Air Canada chief executive Calin Rovinescu said Thursday, and the electronic manuals will eliminate the uncounted time that pilots spend inserting new pages and taking out old ones every time airplane manufacturers issue updates.

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“It’s a much more efficient process,” Mr. Rovinescu said in an interview in Toronto. The manuals weigh 16 kilograms, so on a plane with two pilots the weight saving is 32 kg. Some long-range aircraft carry four pilots.

Taking the manuals off the planes is one of the many cost-saving measures transforming Air Canada from a company shunned by investors to one that has become a darling of the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The airline’s fleet is being renewed, its debt costs have fallen dramatically and it recently upgraded its expectations for third-quarter financial results. Air Canada’s share price hit $5.09 on Thursday, its highest level in nearly five years. The stock was trading at $1.52 a year ago.

“If you thought about this a year and a half ago, it would be almost inconceivable to be in the position we are in today,” Mr. Rovinescu said. “We have a company today that it’s clear, its objective is sustainable profitability.”

The key to the transformation is reducing costs, and that reduction is happening even faster than Air Canada forecast it would in August.

A key element of reducing that cost is cutting the amount of fuel its airplanes use. Fuel represents 30 per cent of Air Canada’s total costs.

For example, switching the paint used on wide-bodied planes has reduced the weight of those aircraft by between 500 and 800 kilograms.

Even smaller changes, such as converting pilot manuals from paper to tablets, add up. The annual savings from that move will amount to more than $3-million -- about half of which will come from lower fuel costs. Air Canada has already switched its Sky Regional planes to iPads and it’s believed that Apple Inc. will provide the tablets for the parent company also.

The overall objective is to cut costs per average seat mile by 15 per cent over the medium term, Mr. Rovinescu said.

An overhaul of Air Canada’s fleet is another significant factor.

The airline will take delivery of new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft beginning next year, which will lower its fuel and maintenance costs on international routes.

Five Boeing 777 aircraft that are already being delivered will have a similar impact. They have a greater number of seats than the airline’s existing 777 planes and enable it to offer three classes of seating, including premium economy seats that generate higher revenues than regular economy seats, but are less expensive than business class for travellers unwilling to pay the highest fares.

The delivery of 787s will go on through 2019. And Air Canada will begin updating its narrow-body fleet as early as 2016, Mr. Rovinescu said. It is examining the new fuel-efficient offerings being developed by the three manufacturers that compete in the narrow bodied segment, as well as the larger regional jets being offered by Embraer SA of Brazil.

Mr. Rovinescu said he has been on the Bombardier Inc. C Series jet that made its first flight last month, although not yet while the plane has been in the air.

New narrow-body planes will replace Air Canada’s current Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft, he said. The company will order more than 80 airplanes, he said, although not necessarily all from one manufacturer.

The decision is still scheduled to be made by the end of the year, he said, although “there’s no gun to our heads.”

Follow on Twitter: @gregkeenanglobe

 

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