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Air Canada AC-T pilots are seeing progress in contract talks after a private independent mediator was hired to bridge gaps with the country’s largest carrier over pay and quality-of-life demands, a union representative said on Thursday.

Air Canada’s aviators, who are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), are pressing for historic gains to narrow a wage gap with higher-paid U.S. counterparts who secured record contracts in 2023 amid pilot shortages and strong travel demand.

Air Canada’s pilots have previously said the current pay rates for aviators at Delta Air Lines are up to 45% higher than the Canadian carrier’s hourly pay rates.

“We found that using this professional mediator in this private mediation agreement is starting to get the ball rolling,” said Charlene Hudy, who heads the local union representing Air Canada pilots.

Montreal-based Air Canada, which reports earnings on Friday, said in a statement that its goal is to give pilots an improved contract.

The carrier said an agreement reached with pilots in January largely commits both sides to mediation until June 1 and to not filing for conciliation, which would start the clock toward a potential strike or a lock-out.

Air Canada said the agreement gives customers certainty and the confidence to make summer bookings.

“Right now, we’re committed to negotiating at the table,” Hudy said. “If we get to that point where there is an actual impasse at the table, then we would look at exercising our rights.”

About 500 Air Canada pilots are considering moving to work for U.S. carriers if the contract is not what they expect, Hudy said, citing internal union survey data.

While flying in the United States involves a costly and long-term immigration process for foreigners, Reuters reported in September that more Canadian pilots are trying.

The union said it is bargaining on behalf of almost 5,300 pilots. According to the carrier, around 4,500 pilots were active at the start of the negotiations.

Air Canada’s pilots started bargaining last summer after ending a decade-long contract framework.

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