Northern airline merger will deliver good things, CEO says
“I think so far things are going very smoothly”
As First Air and Canadian North merge, passengers can expect to see more seat sales, better scheduling and improved onboard reading materials, says the new airline’s incoming CEO and president, Chris Avery.
“We want that to go smoothly and really take care of our customers so they don’t feel impacted by this change,” Avery told Nunatsiaq News.
But some of the two airlines’ 700 or so employees may eventually find themselves out of work as the airlines combine their operations.
Layoffs are unlikely to affect pilots and aviation engineers, Avery said.
But the merger will involve some rejigging of staff in the West and in the small northern communities, where right now, the two airlines each have their own employees.
The head office of the new airline will be located in Kanata, outside Ottawa, although Canadian North’s foothold has traditionally been in Alberta.
“We really need a strong presence in the West,” Avery said.
“And, for sure, there will be some layoffs, but we’re also looking at how we can work in an environment where there are good people based in western Canada and good people based in eastern Canada.”
In communities where there are duplicate agents and ramp crews for each the two airlines, there will be “potentially” some layoffs.
But Avery said the goal is to manage those redundancies through attrition.
As for passengers, they can look for savings in the merger, he promised.
“Over time, we will make sure that the lowest possible fares are available to everyone,” he said.
That means continuing to have seat sales and continuing to hold beneficiary fares at the levels currently offered under the Pivut and Ilak fares.
These fares offer beneficiaries and their families travel at savings of up to 65 per cent.
Governments, organizations and some companies also have agreements with the airlines for reduced airfares.
“We have to absolutely continue to have sales so that the low fares are available to everyone, not just the people who a connection,” Avery said.
Then there’s the improved flight schedule, which comes in Nov. 1.
The average passenger should see that, because of the merger, they will have better scheduling options, time-of-day options, and, for example, same-day connections from Baffin communities to Iqaluit, Avery said.
The merger is set to affect the future of the two airline magazines, Above and Beyond and Up Here, although no decision has yet been made.
Above and Beyond is owned by First Air, while Up Here is a privately owned, Yellowknife-based publication.
No matter which one continues on as the in-flight magazine, Avery said he wants to “make it as relevant as we can to our customers, rather than an in-flight magazine that people look at because they have nothing else to do.”
He said wants them to think that when they fly, “Oh good, I get to read that.”
As for the passenger loyalty programs, if you’re an Aurora points collector, you have nothing to worry about: your points are safe with the new airline, which owns that loyalty program, and the program will be extended.
Everyone will also, for now, be able to collect Aeroplan points.
“I think so far things are going very smoothly, mostly because not much has changed,” Avery said.
But, for the two airlines, there’s dealing with the costly challenge of integrating the two airlines’ systems and lots of details.
Every one is important, Avery said—”we can’t scrimp on that.”
He said the future will bring greater “efficiencies,” that is, savings for the new airline, when aircraft are able to get filled up with as many passengers as possible, he said.
An earlier version of this story stated that the airline planned to offer sales that would bring down the price of regular fares to what Inuit land claim beneficiaries can book. The airline has since clarified that it intends to continue to have seat sales and will continue to hold beneficiary fares at the levels currently offered under the Pivut and Ilak fares.