CANADA, USA- In 2022, the number of Canadian pilots seeking opportunities to work in the United States (US) airlines saw a threefold increase, as indicated by previously undisclosed data from US government sources.
This surge has raised concerns about worsening pilot shortages in Canada as these aviators pursue higher-paying positions across the border.
Canadian Pilots Seeks US Airlines Jobs
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data reveals that a total of 147 Canadian pilots applied for licenses to operate commercial jets in the United States in 2022, marking a significant rise from the 39 applicants in the previous year (2021).
Concurrently, the overall number of foreign applications nearly doubled, reaching a total of 1,442.
Despite the challenges associated with immigration, including delays and substantial costs, foreign aviators are drawn to the United States by the robust demand for air travel and historic increases in pilot wages.
According to insights from legal experts, aviation unions, and pilots, this trend is notable.
Although relatively small in scale, the uptick in applications for U.S. pilot positions is causing apprehension among regional Canadian carriers.
These carriers, much like their counterparts in the United States, are grappling with workforce shortages as they witness pilots departing for larger airlines.
Industry experts suggest that this trend could exert pressure on Air Canada during ongoing negotiations with its pilots, whose contract is set to expire on September 29.
Air Canada Pilots Shortage
This week, Air Canada announced the suspension of six non-stop flights departing from Calgary at the end of October, citing “resource pressures” stemming from the industry-wide scarcity of regional pilots.
John Gradek, an aviation management faculty lecturer at McGill University in Montreal, commented, “It’s definitely a concern.”
At Sunwing Airlines, approximately 10 percent of their roughly 490 pilots are submitting applications to work in the U.S., according to Mark Taylor, the president of the Unifor union local representing aviators at the company.
Taylor has raised this issue with Sunwing, but the company has not responded to requests for comment. It’s worth noting that WestJet Airlines has acquired Sunwing Airlines, which has also not provided comments in response to inquiries.
Two Sunwing pilots, wishing to remain anonymous as they have not informed their employer of their intentions, have acquired licenses to work as pilots in the United States.
They are currently awaiting immigration paperwork to make the move, motivated by the higher salaries and the elevated cost of living in Canada’s major cities.
Attorney Jean-Francois Harvey has assisted around 560 foreign pilots over the past year, and approximately 29 percent of these pilots are Canadian, working for airlines such as Air Canada, WestJet, and Sunwing.
While unable to comment on individual pilot career decisions, Air Canada stated that it does not face challenges in attracting pilots to its primary carrier.
As per Air Canada pilots represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the wage gap between the Canadian carrier and United Airlines is projected to increase from 3 percent in 2013 to 92 percent in 2024 for a specific category of experienced pilots. Air Canada pilots were earning higher salaries before 2013.
ATAC Cheif Insights
Gradek cautioned that the ongoing trend of major airlines hiring pilots from smaller carriers would have a “cascading effect,” resulting in decreased flight frequencies and service reductions on regional routes.
John McKenna, the CEO of the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), which advocates for smaller Canadian carriers, noted that his members are already reducing flight frequencies due to staffing deficits. He stated, “Everyone is facing challenges at the moment.”
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