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A WestJet Airlines plane taxis to a gate after arriving at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Jan. 21, 2021.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

WestJet Airlines Ltd. is set to issue layoff notices to 415 pilots, underlining the dim outlook for air travel heading into the summer.

Calgary-based WestJet will issue the notices as it negotiates with the union that represents its pilots, the Airline Pilots Association, to renew a six-month memorandum of agreement (MOA) that expires on March 31.

The MOA, which does not replace the collective agreement, is intended to set out working conditions and mitigate the effects of the collapse in demand for air travel.

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Morgan Bell, a WestJet spokeswoman, said the layoff notices will be sent ahead of the expiration of the agreement as talks continue, as required under the collective agreement.

“The current MOA is set to expire on March 31 and we continue to be hopeful that ALPA and WestJet can reach an agreement to mitigate any further impact to our pilot group as a result of the pandemic,” Ms. Bell said. “While this work continues, in order to be contractually compliant, lay-off notices will be sent to the affected pilots.”

“We continue to be hopeful that ALPA and WestJet can reach an agreement to mitigate any further impact to our pilot group as a result of the pandemic,” Ms. Bell said.

The round of layoffs will affect pilots with as many as 10 or 11 years’ seniority, the person said. The layoff notices could be rescinded in negotiations, which also include the possibility of pay cuts.

WestJet has 1,250 pilots in its workforce of 5,600. About 5,100 have been laid off since the pandemic caused passenger capacity to be slashed by about 90 per cent, including 450 pilots.

Before the pandemic, WestJet employed about 2,000 pilots.

Union officials declined to comment while talks are underway.

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New variants of the coronavirus have sparked tighter travel restrictions around the world, even as some countries begin vaccinating people against the deadly illness.

The International Air Transport Association this week said the world’s airlines will continue to lose money through 2021, revising a previous forecast that the cash burn would stop late in the year. “The first half of 2021 will be worse than earlier anticipated,” IATA said in a press briefing.

The world’s airlines will burn through US$75-billion to US$95-billion this year, higher than a previously forecast US$45-billion, said Brian Pearce, chief economist of IATA. Passenger “bookings have deteriorated,” he told reporters.

WestJet and other Canadian airlines agreed at the request of the federal government to stop flying to sun destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean. WestJet has also halted most flight to Atlantic Canada, and pared back its schedule elsewhere to reduce costs as demand falls.

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