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Canadian airline WestJet, pilots reach 11th-hour deal as strike averted

CALGARY, Alberta (AP): Canada’s second-largest airline, WestJet, and its pilots union say they have reached a last-minute deal, averting a strike on Friday before a holiday weekend in the country.

A statement from the Air Line Pilots Association says union leaders voted to approve an agreement-in-principle, with a membership vote to begin in the coming days.

The airline had grounded the bulk of its fleet Thursday, including for its Swoop subsidiary, parking their 130 planes at airports across Canada and leaving thousands of travelers in limbo across the country.

The shutdown affected dozens of routes within Canada and to the U.S. and overseas, while flights at the WestJet Encore regional service and the WestJet-owned Sunwing Airlines were unaffected.

Around 1,800 pilots at WestJet and Swoop had been poised to walk off the job early Friday after the ALPA served a strike notice Monday.

Bernard Lewall, who heads the union’s WestJet contingent, had said the workers’ issues revolved around pay, job security and scheduling, with pilots earning roughly half of what some of their U.S. counterparts make.

In the ALPA statement, Lewall said that union leaders believe the contract “delivers on the goals of better job security, enhanced compensation, and more flexible schedules to allow for a better work/life balance consistent with collective agreements other ALPA-represented pilot groups are signing with their employers.”

The WestJet Group said in its own statemen that it’s happy to have reached a tentative agreement that is industry-leading within Canada and recognizes the important contributions of its valued pilots.

CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech said that the agreement provides “meaningful improvements to job security and scope, working conditions and wages.”

“We appreciate we were able to arrive at a deal, however, recognize the impact on our guests and we sincerely appreciate their patience during this time.”

WestJet said it is ramping up its operations as quickly and efficiently as possible, but added it will take time for the network to catch up. The airline advised travelers to continue to check the status of their flights before leaving for the airport.