An arbitrator’s binding interim order has paved the way for Calgary-based WestJet’s ultra-LCC Swoop to launch later this month with pilots recruited from outside the company, but the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) will become the pilots’ representative by September.

The binding interim agreement has positives for both sides. WestJet will see its pilots flying for its ULCC offshoot as well as its mainline and regional brands under presumed labor peace, while ALPA will negotiate terms for all WestJet and Swoop pilots.

Under the interim agreement, the two airlines—Swoop is a WestJet subsidiary but will operate independently—will apply to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board to grant Swoop ALPA representation by Sept. 1. In the meantime, current Swoop pilots, recruited from outside the WestJet ranks, will “remain in their current positions until directed otherwise by the arbitrator,” WestJet explained.

The two sides, which have been in talks since last fall, avoided a pilot strike last month by agreeing to mediation and, if necessary, binding arbitration. Part of the deal: ALPA representation for Swoop’s pilots.

Swoop, which is slated to launch June 20, will operate former WestJet mainline Boeing 737-800s reconfigured with 189 seats. WestJet’s Swoop timeline has the ULCC launching with three aircraft, increasing to 10 by next spring and as many as 40 down the road. 

All Swoop routes are additions to the WestJet network, and WestJet management insists that Swoop flying will not cannibalize WestJet’s markets. But absent an agreement that spells out Swoop’s size and network, as well as pilot pay rates and other key details, WestJet pilots faced uncertainty by taking roles with the new ULCC. Arbitration, and the interim order, all but eliminates those concerns, putting ALPA in charge of ensuring an agreeable pilot contract that meets members’ goals while enabling Swoop unit costs to be in the ULCC range, below WestJet and its mainline competitors. 

WestJet’s first-quarter CASM was 14.15 Canadian cents (11 US cents), while CASM ex-fuel was 10.57 cents.

Sean Broderick, sean.broderick@aviationweek.com