Air Canada calls labour board over job action

Air Canada planes at the Calgary International Airport in Calgary, Alberta, on March 8, 2012.



TORONTO -- An unusual number of Air Canada pilots booking off sick over the weekend prompted the airline to seek help from the federal labour relations board.

But despite fears of additional flight disruptions as part of ongoing labour action, Pearson Airport runways returned to normal operations by Sunday evening, a spokesman said.

Just over 100 of 1,278 scheduled flights were cancelled or delayed due to morning fog and a maintenance area fire Saturday evening, Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) spokesman Scott Armstrong said.

He said runway 05/23 was closed from 10 p.m. Saturday until about 10 a.m. Sunday after essential takeoff and landing runway lights were disrupted by the fire.

"Startup was slow with dozens of delays," Armstrong said.
At the supper hour, he said repairs were "very successful" and tests of essential lighting was completed.

During the disruptions, airlines were adjusting their March Break return schedules, with some reducing flights in and out of Canada's busiest airport.

Pearson's website reported most cancellations were of inbound flights, the majority involving Air Canada arrivals from Canadian and American airports, plus one from Mexico City.

Flights on several U.S. airlines to and from cities south of the border, plus one Cuba-bound charter, were also cancelled.

"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," Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzgerald said by e-mail.

"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 (Canadian Industrial Relations Board) to intervene," he said, without citing specific requests.

After a bitter labour dispute involving several of the unions representing workers, including pilots and ground crews, the Senate passed back-to-work legislation Thursday that referred disputes to arbitration.

Arguing an Air Canada work stoppage could damage the economy's fragile recovery from recession, the government said it intervened to prevent both a lockout of the pilots by Air Canada and a planned strike by its machinists.

The pilots vowed Friday to fight back through the courts.
The 3,000-member Air Canada Pilots Association did not return messages Sunday.

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