Airline officials meet with stakeholders to quell merger concerns
Canadian North, First Air officials warn employees to expect job losses
Officials from Canadian North and First Air say customers can expect to see the two companies, which are now in the process of merging, branded as one by the end of the year.
Transport Canada approved the merger last month, subject to a list of conditions. The two airlines signed off on the transaction July 10.
Since then, airline officials have launched an informal series of town hall meetings with stakeholders along its travel routes, stopping in Iqaluit July 23 to meet at the Frobisher Inn with clients and community organizations.
The new airline’s incoming CEO and president, Chris Avery, says the process of merging is long and complicated, but the airline is aiming to keep its employees and customers up to date as much as possible.
“We’ve definitely heard concerns about the schedule and the capacity,” Avery said. “And we’ve definitely heard concerns about pricing.
“What we’ve told them is that, our intent has always been about providing that service,” he said.
“Our ownership group is 100 per cent Inuit, and their direction is not about cutting services or raising fares. The merger is about providing the best customer service as possible, and keeping prices as low as possible.”
While the administrative transaction required to fully merge the two airlines could take up to two years, Avery says the airlines plan to have a joint reservation system up by the end of 2019, so the new airline—which will take the name Canadian North—will be presented as one brand.
The estimated 18 to 24 months needed to complete the merger is more administrative and “behind the scenes,” he said.
Up until now, the new airline hasn’t said much about the impact the merger will have on its workforce—an estimated 700 employees with Canadian North and 800 with First Air.
“We realize that causes some uncertainties for our employees,” Avery said. “[This merger] is about gaining efficiencies, so there will be some job losses.”
Avery hopes much of that can happen through attrition or a voluntary separation program. In any case, the new airline said it intends to prioritize northern and Inuit jobs.
New airline in talks with Qikiqtaaluk Corp.
With the new airline jointly run by Nunavik Inuit and Inuvialuit-owned corporations, Nunavut does not have its own stake in the new venture—at least not yet.
Owners Makivik Corp. and the Inuvialuit Regional Corp. are in “active conversation” with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s Qikiqtaaluk Corp. about buying an equity stake and having representation on the new airline’s board of directors, Avery said.
Those discussions are also happening with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association.
Canadian North and First Air have made separate bids for the Government of Nunavut’s new medical and duty travel contracts, which include a new public travel component.
The new set of contracts are expected to be announced any time now, though Avery wouldn’t speculate on how the merged airline would deliver on it.
“We’ve both put in submissions, that we’ll obviously honour,” he said. “And we hope we’ll be successful.”