Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Pilots Picket WestJet Annual Meeting as Profit Streak Threatened by Strike

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Pilots Picket WestJet Annual Meeting as Profit Streak Threatened by Strike

Article excerpt

Pilots picket WestJet annual meeting

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CALGARY - The CEO of WestJet Airlines Ltd. warned Tuesday a potential strike could end its 13-year streak of quarterly profits as about 150 picketing pilots in uniform greeted shareholders at the company's annual meeting.

The airline's shares plummeted to a two-year intraday low after it issued first-quarter results that cautioned its revenue per available seat mile will be flat or fall by two per cent in the current quarter partly due to a possible pilots' strike.

The stock closed at $19.94, its lowest since April 2016, after trading as low as $19.30 earlier in the day.

"What we have seen over the last two weeks is a significant deferral of bookings, while some guests will either postpone travel plans or make other decisions," CEO Ed Sims said Tuesday morning during a conference call.

WestJet has agreed to give refunds if job action results in travel disruptions, he added.

The Calgary-based airline and its pilots have been in contract negotiations since September. However, negotiations have been fraught as the union takes issue with the company's hiring of outside pilots for its new ultra-low cost carrier Swoop, which is set to launch in June.

After the annual meeting at the company's Calgary International Airport headquarters, Sims said he doesn't see the share price drop as a comment on his leadership since unexpectedly being appointed to replace retiring Gregg Saretsky in March.

"It's always challenging to go through a tough quarter and potentially to be advising on a future tough quarter but it is part of the headwinds that come in the aviation industry... I don't tend to personalize those sort of reactions," he told reporters.

Analysts on the call challenged Sims for maintaining the same strategy despite an abrupt change in CEO. He defended the strategy, saying it was developed by a team and not one person.

The airline is committed to remaining at the negotiating table with pilots until a sustainable agreement is reached, Sims said, noting there has been some progress.

On the sidewalk outside, WestJet 230 YYC chairman Capt. David Colquhoun agreed the quality and frequency of negotiations has improved since the pilots commenced a strike vote late last month.

The voting is expected to wrap up by May 10 and, if strike action is endorsed, job action could be taken after a cooling off period ends May 18. …

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