Air Canada plans to abandon mandatory retirement for its pilots who turn 60.
Under the proposal, as long as one of the pilots in a two- or three-pilot international crew is younger than 60, one or two others in the cockpit can be 60 or older.
Air Canada said it intends to comply with new rules to take effect in December that will abolish mandatory retirement at federally regulated employers.
The age discrimination issue has surfaced as the Air Canada Pilots Association and management enter a crucial phase in contract talks. Some pilots say Air Canada is trying to create a distraction with contentious retirement changes while there still are other major topics such as outsourcing yet to be discussed.
The carrier announced its proposal to the 3,000-member union as part of an 18-page presentation posted on an internal website this week. "Amendments to the collective agreement must be made in order to accommodate the legislative change," according to the airline, noting that contract changes are required to help "determine future staffing requirements."
Captain Rick Allen, Air Canada's senior director of flight operations, added in a memo that the carrier is addressing the retirement issue due to recent changes in federal legislation and policies already in place at the International Civil Aviation Organization, an agency of the United Nations.
If Montreal-based Air Canada opts to follow certain international standards, captains will be allowed to fly overseas until reaching age 65, as long as the first officer is under the age of 60.
The previous ACPA contract expired on March 31. Union leaders and younger pilots say the current system works well to create room for advancement for the next generation, but dozens of retired pilots remain upset at being forced out.
Raymond Hall, a lawyer who heads the Fly Past 60 Coalition, said Air Canada's plan to allow pilots to fly beyond age 60 has taken a long time to emerge. "It's a milestone. It's an acknowledgment that mandatory retirement will no longer be permitted in the federal jurisdiction effective Dec. 15, 2012," Mr. Hall said in an interview Friday.
Management and the union are now in a mediation phase, with a 21-day cooling off period slated to end at 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 14, when Air Canada will be in a lockout position. ACPA leaders have said they don't plan to hold a strike vote any time soon.
The two sides remain far apart on wages and working conditions. Air Canada is offering wage increases of 12.58 per cent compounded over the course of a five-year contract, compared with hikes of 12.51 per cent compounded over four years in the previous contract that was rejected by unionized pilots last May.
In management's presentation, the matter of pension reform is again being raised. Air Canada wants to place new pilots on less costly defined contribution pensions, which don't have a guaranteed payout upon retirement.
Canada's largest airline also wants to outsource flying in some instances, notably on jets and turboprops that seat up to 119 passengers.
As well, the carrier is seeking to change the pay grid so that pilots flying Boeing 777s and Boeing 787s will be grouped together.
Captain Gary Tarves, chairman of ACPA's master executive council, said he's concerned about management's recent manoeuvring. "I suspect this decision to bypass the bargaining table and appeal to the pilots is only the first of what will prove to be many attempts to show division and wring further concessions," Capt. Tarves said in a newsletter to pilots.
"The other disturbing move by the company this week was its refusal of appeals from both ACPA and the federal government's representative to extend conciliation. This decision means that Air Canada has started the 21-day clock running toward the legal ability to lock us out or take some other provocative action."