Sunday, March 18, 2012

Air Canada calls for probe after ‘higher-than-usual pilot book-offs’

Air Canada has asked the Canada Industrial Relations Board to step in after an unusually high number of pilots phoned in sick over the weekend, forcing some flights to be cancelled or delayed.

Up to 100 flights in and out of Pearson airport were cancelled and scores more delayed Sunday. Most of the affected flights were being run by Air Canada, whose staff was legislated back to work several days ago.

“Air Canada experienced numerous delays and cancellations over the weekend. While weather, a disruption caused by a fire at our major hub in Toronto, and other factors affected our operation, some impact was the result of a higher-than usual pilot book-offs,” airline spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said.

“While Air Canada supports the right of its employees to book off when they are unwell or otherwise unfit to work, we cannot condone such activities as part of industrial action to disrupt our operations and we have asked the CIRB to intervene.”

The overnight fire — described as a small electrical fire — closed one of five runways at Pearson, affecting arrivals and departures by numerous airlines including Air Canada, WestJet and United. The fire was quickly extinguished and no one was injured.

Dense fog further curtailed flights.

A day earlier, Air Canada cited “operational challenges” after more than dozen flights were cancelled and others were delayed, mostly out of Montreal’s Trudeau airport.

Some pilots flocked to Twitter to refute the implication that pilots are taking illegal job action. Fog surrounding Montreal, they said, had caused the delays.

Neither the pilots’ union nor the Air Canada Pilots Association returned requests for comment Saturday night or Sunday.

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