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Air Canada threatens to fire pilots' union chief over remarks on safety

Air Canada pilots are silhouetted as they arrive at Toronto's Pearson airport, March 18, 2012.


Paul Strachan, the president of the Air Canada Pilots Association, has been reprimanded by the airline for making allegedly "reckless" remarks about plane safety.

"Your comments concerning the safety of Air Canada's operations and aircraft are unacceptable and cannot be permitted to stand," Captain Rick Allen, the airline's senior director of flight operations, said in a letter to Captain Strachan about his "irresponsible" comments made during a March 20 interview on the Lang & O'Leary Exchange program on CBC TV.

The country's largest airline warned that unless the ACPA president retracts his comments, he will face disciplinary action or even dismissal as an airline employee.

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"You are very well aware of the primordial role that the safety of our operations plays in the reputation and brand image that Air Canada works so hard to establish and maintain," Capt. Allen said in the two-page letter obtained by The Globe and Mail.

Capt. Strachan had mentioned insolvent Aveos Fleet Performance Inc. during the television interview.

Responding to a question about safety from co-host Kevin O'Leary, Capt. Strachan referred to Aveos, an aircraft maintenance firm that shut down last month and whose largest customer was Air Canada .

"I'm saying that certainly it's a consideration for you as a traveller going forward if we are now going to, for instance, in the case of Aveos, offshore depot level maintenance activities to third parties in other jurisdictions who may or may not be held to the same standards that our people are," Capt. Strachan said during the final 45 seconds of the seven-minute TV interview.

On Monday, Capt. Strachan stressed that he believes Air Canada runs a safe operation due to the sound judgment and skills of dedicated employees and not because of management's oversight. Air Canada is one of the safest airlines in the world, he said.

Last month, the union president asserted that the El Salvador-based Aeroman aircraft repair plant, which is majority owned by an Aveos entity, employs workers who are paid less than $16,000 a year.

"My question to you then is: Is this the man you want maintaining the aircraft that you fly on so frequently? I suspect not," Capt. Strachan said during the March 20 interview.

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Capt. Allen described the remarks as "wholly without merit" and "completely false" since Air Canada doesn't fly any of its planes for servicing at Aeroman. "We have publicly and repeatedly stated that Air Canada had not sent any aircraft to the Aeroman facility to be maintained and has no plans to do so. Falsely associating Air Canada with Aeroman's operations, as you did, in the current environment in particular, itself damages Air Canada's reputation."

A prolonged labour dispute between Montreal-based Air Canada and ACPA is headed toward arbitration.

"Regardless of your role within the Air Canada Pilots Association, you are an Air Canada employee, and as such, this letter of expectation will be placed on your file," Capt. Allen said in his letter. "Furthermore, you are hereby called upon to retract the statements that constitute a breach of your duties as an employee and to demand of the CBC that it remove such portion of your interview from any website from which the interview may be publicly viewed. Your failure to abide by the above or any repetition of any similar occurrence will result in Air Canada taking further action, up to and including discharge."

Capt. Allen also criticized Capt. Strachan for sanctioning March 31 newspaper advertisements showing pilots' caps, saying the use of such an image was "unauthorized and constitutes misappropriation of company property. Further use of the uniform or any of its parts will not be tolerated."

Capt. Allen noted that Capt. Strachan appeared during the television interview "wearing an Air Canada uniform while you were not working for Air Canada."

ACPA has been facing internal dissent, too, as pilots debate how to react to federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt's intervention to prevent full-scale work stoppages. The union urged a group of 27 former union leaders last month to stand down and join a united campaign to obtain a fair labour contract.

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"Please consider that this battle will be a hard one, requiring your unwavering support," said a newsletter to all members signed by Capt. Strachan and 15 other current leaders of the union.

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About the Author

Brent Jang is a business reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. He joined the Globe in 1995. His former positions include transportation reporter in Toronto, energy correspondent in Calgary and Western columnist for Report on Business. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway student newspaper. Mr. More

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