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WestJet to lay off 1,700 pilots

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    CALGARY — WestJet notified its pilot association Wednesday night that it intends to issue layoff notices to 1,700 pilots, as the economic fallout from COVID-19 continues to hammer the Canadian economy.

    "1,700 pilots across WestJet, WestJet Encore and Swoop have received layoff notifications, effective either May 1 or June 1, 2020," said WestJet spokesperson Morgan Bell in an email to CTV News.

    "These notifications are in response to the COVID-19 global crisis that is shutting borders, encouraging only essential travel and forcing a dramatic reduction in flying that has led to the grounding of almost three-quarters of the WestJet fleet.

    "Issuing layoffs, in response to this crisis, has always been a last resort for WestJet; however, the impact of COVID-19 on the aviation industry is colossal, and WestJet is making difficult but necessary decisions to right-size our airline to weather the crisis.

    "These actions will play a crucial part in WestJet’s ability to recover quickly," Bell added, "and participate in Canada’s economic recovery."

    700 pilots will be laid off effective May 1, with another 1,000 off the job as of June 1.

    The pilots association issued a statement, saying, "the layoffs will be in reverse seniority order. Discussions are ongoing to mitigate the June layoffs.

    "The MEC (WestJet Pilot’s Master Executive Council)’s negotiation goal is to arrive at an appropriate balance between short-term economic accomodations and protecting the value of the jobs remaining, in accordance with our pilot’s wishes. We also expect the (WestJet) executive team is doing something similar: balancing liquidity and costs with the real risk of cutting too deeply and hobbling the ability of the company to spool back up in a timely fashion when the recovery starts.

    "It is important this balance is correct."

    "We continue to negotiate with the company to protect our member’s interests while preserving as many pilot positions as possible," the statement added. "Events have moved very quickly up to this point, so numbers may be subject to change with new developments."

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      A pilot taxis a Westjet Boeing 737-700 plane to a gate after arriving at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on Monday, February 3, 2014.The airline laid off 1,700 pilots Wednesday night. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

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