Air Canada seeks to expand its cargo business, pilots ratify contract changes

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MONTREAL – Air Canada pilots have ratified contract changes that will help the carrier grow its cargo business, as airlines work to minimize the impact of the pandemic on their bottom line.The Montreal-based airline announced Friday that it will convert several of its retired Boeing 767s to carry cargo and that it has appointed a new executive, Jason Berry, to oversee its cargo division.

“Air Canada and Air Canada Cargo have rapidly evolved into new unique business opportunities in response to changing market conditions over the past 11 months,” said Lucie Guillemette, Air Canada commercial director, in the release.

The airline saw freight as a potential opportunity in an otherwise bleak year.

In May, Air Canada announced it was adding flights to Bogota, Lima, Amsterdam, Dublin and Madrid to its cargo service, which includes up to 100 international all-cargo flights per week, according to the airline.

With low passenger demand, other major airlines, such as American Airlines and United Airlines, began operating exclusively cargo flights this year, hoping to stem losses. In the third quarter of 2020, United’s freight revenue jumped almost 50% from the previous year.

The announcement came on Friday as Canadian airlines awaited a decision from Ottawa on financial support for the industry. The government pledged in September to support hard-hit businesses in the travel and tourism sectors, but has yet to announce a detailed plan.

Air Canada said changes to the pilot contract will help it operate more competitively in the cargo industry.

Michael McKay, chairman of the Air Canada Pilots Association’s elected main board, said members of the organization voted on the revised deal earlier this month. The Boeing jets, which were grounded and rolled out of Air Canada’s fleet, will form a new fleet once they are converted to a cargo configuration, McKay said.

Berry, whose appointment as vice president of cargo begins Jan. 1, will join Air Canada from Alaska Airlines’ wholly-owned subsidiary, McGee Air Services, of which he was president. He led Alaska Airlines’ cargo operations from 2012 to June 2019.



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