Ottawa, province prepare to land maintenance work from Air Canada, Cargojet partnership

Originally published by Mia Rabson and Dan Lett for the Winnipeg Free Press on July 5th 2016

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Cargojet already flies freight planes in and out of Winnipeg, but it doesn’t have a maintenance operation here.

Cargojet already flies freight planes in and out of Winnipeg, but it doesn’t have a maintenance operation here.

OTTAWA — The federal and provincial governments are close to securing a deal with Air Canada and Cargojet Airways that would mean hundreds of new jobs to overhaul cargo jets in Winnipeg.

The agreement would see Hamilton-based Cargojet lease one of Air Canada’s two remaining maintenance hangars in Winnipeg and hire workers to service its planes. The deal right now is for 150 new jobs, but a source said they are close to securing another 250 maintenance jobs.

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS Cargojet arriving at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Cargojet arriving at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Cargojet held a job fair in Winnipeg in May seeking applicants for many positions, including a director of a heavy maintenance operation in Winnipeg, managers, inspectors, aircraft maintenance engineers, technicians, machinists and aircraft service personnel.

The province would invest money to upgrade the hangars.

Air Canada and Cargojet wouldn’t comment. However, provincial and federal sources told the Free Press an announcement could come this week, as plans to establish an Air Canada centre of excellence for maintenance in Winnipeg begin to take shape.

Cargojet flies multiple freight planes in and out of Richardson International Airport each week, but it does not have a maintenance presence in the city. The airline specializes in transporting pharmaceuticals, dangerous goods and human remains for burial.

It recently began a partnership with Air Canada Cargo to ship freight to South America. Cargojet would also fly freight between Toronto and Europe for Air Canada Cargo beginning this fall.

Air Canada promised the centre last winter in exchange for the provincial government withdrawing its involvement in a Quebec lawsuit against the airline for violating the Air Canada Public Participation Act. The lawsuit was launched in 2012 after Air Canada’s maintenance subsidiary, Aveos Fleet Performance, went bankrupt and Air Canada shipped its heavy maintenance work outside of Canada.

The former law required heavy maintenance work to be kept in Winnipeg, Montreal and Mississauga, Ont.

Air Canada struck deals with both Quebec and Manitoba to build maintenance centres of excellence in Montreal and Winnipeg in exchange for the lawsuit being dropped. Once those deals were underway, the federal government amended the law to give Air Canada flexibility in determining what kind of maintenance jobs it keeps in the two cities, rather than requiring heavy maintenance. That refers to the kind of work done over a period of months, when a plane is taken out of rotation. Air Canada meets the new law with its 28 line maintenance workers in Winnipeg, who do system checks and basic fixes while planes are parked at the gate.

Air Canada brass said last month if the legislative change did not pass, the two centres of excellence would not be initiated. The bill became law June 22.

If 400 new maintenance jobs are created in the city, it would see the industry return to the kind of jobs in place before Aveos went bankrupt.

Former maintenance workers were livid at the Liberals for watering down the job requirements in the Air Canada Public Participation Act, believing it meant the highly paid, highly skilled maintenance jobs would never return to Winnipeg.

Some former workers were pleased to hear about the plan Monday but remained skeptical. One former worker said 150 jobs appears to be what Cargojet might need, but he’s not sure how the other 250 workers could be used.

Aveos used to have about 50 workers on a shift, with three eight-hour shifts in a 24-hour period, the worker said.

The initial announcement of an aircraft maintenance centre of excellence included plans for two other companies to set up shop in Winnipeg.

Hope Aero Propeller & Components Inc., which specializes in propellers, wheels, brakes and batteries, and Airbase Services Inc., which specializes in interior equipment maintenance, already supply Air Canada. It is not clear what role they will play in the project.