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Canadian pop diva Celine Dion slipped her slight frame into a new Air Canada uniform yesterday and belted out songs for thousands of airline employees, ushering in what the carrier hopes will be a money-making era.

She christened the revamped Air Canada with her trademark ballads and a pep talk to nearly 2,000 airline employees at a cavernous hangar at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

Air Canada, which emerged three weeks ago from 18 months of bankruptcy protection, is counting on its new marketing and advertising association with Ms. Dion to help boost employee morale and win over customers.

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Ms. Dion's work for Air Canada isn't without controversy, and her corporate cachet isn't a slam-dunk. DaimlerChrysler AG largely dropped her from its Chrysler minivan commercials, although it continues to back her glitzy Las Vegas show.

It will be hard for Air Canada passengers to escape the voice of Ms. Dion -- much loved by adoring fans and much derided by detractors. One of her songs, with the lyrics, "You and I were meant to fly," is already being played on Air Canada flights and the tune will fill aircraft cabins for months to come.

Richard Nolan, vice-president of the Air Canada component of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said he and some of his union colleagues aren't impressed by the signing of the multimillionaire celebrity, given that employees had to take deep wage cuts.

"I think Celine has a great voice, but it's not necessarily my type of music.

"I don't think it's money spent where it needs to be spent. It's more than a couple of songs, a new paint job and new uniforms that we need for the future of this airline," Mr. Nolan said.

But many employees who filed out of the Toronto hangar gave the thumbs-up to Ms. Dion's performance and Air Canada's decision to sign her on as its "new voice."

The hangar also held a freshly painted Boeing jumbo jet, with a new scheme of the red Maple Leaf set in a dotted pattern on the aircraft's tail, that will be part of Air Canada's fleet.

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After her Toronto appearance yesterday morning, Ms. Dion performed in front of almost 3,000 Air Canada workers in Montreal in the afternoon and is scheduled to finish her three-song set at an airline gathering today in Vancouver.

Within a year, 6,700 Air Canada flight attendants and 2,900 sales and service agents will be wearing the new midnight-blue uniforms with silver-sky lining created by Montreal fashion designer Debbie Shuchat.

Inside the hangar at Pearson Airport, Ms. Dion compared the pressures on her to entertain at concerts with the demands on Air Canada employees to carry out their duties.

"Every day, you and I perform with the public -- thousands of people that expect a great show from us, right? Yes, and you know what? They deserve a great show, because they bought the ticket," she said to applause and laughter from Air Canada workers.

Ms. Dion's song You and I will be featured in one 60-second and two 30-second television spots, produced in English and French. The commercials will be aired in Canada starting tomorrow, and will begin in selected markets in Britain in January and the United States in March.

The commercials were shot in locales such as Shanghai, Hawaii and Paris.

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While Air Canada and the pop star didn't disclose the value of their contract, the new advertising campaign is part of a three-year, $46-million marketing pact between the carrier and the federally funded Canadian Tourism Commission.

The tourism commission said that by partnering with Air Canada, both sides will be able to extend their marketing reach abroad, bolstered by Ms. Dion's international star power.

Air Canada officials consider Ms. Dion to be an ideal international ambassador for the airline since the Quebecker is fluent in English and French, fitting well with the carrier's bilingual history and head office in Montreal.

Voting shares in Air Canada's new parent company, ACE Aviation Holdings Inc., gained 21 cents to $23.65 yesterday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Robert Milton, ACE's chairman, president and chief executive officer, said the costs of retaining Ms. Dion will be part of the airline's advertising and marketing budget. He said the airline needs to convey an image of a re-energized company and, like Ms. Dion, Air Canada has "the passion to succeed."

While Air Canada is striving to improve flight departure and arrival times, Ms. Dion's Toronto appearance was delayed by 15 minutes as organizers waited for tardy employees to get inside the hangar.

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Besides performing You and I as the airline's new signature song, Ms. Dion sang That's The Way It Is and Love Can Move Mountains, accompanied by a 10-member chorus of Air Canada employees.

Report on Business Company Snapshot is available for:
AIR CANADA

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