WestJet To Lay Off 700 Pilots At The End Of April

At the end of this month, WestJet will lay off 700 of its pilots in response to COVID-19. The redundancies will be made across WestJet, WestJet Encore, and Swoop. The airline has been hampered by the slump in travel demand and is now reducing its workforce to match operational capacity.

WestJet Max 8
WestJet is laying off 700 pilots at the end of the month in drastic “last resort” measures. Photo: Acefitt via Wikimedia Commons

700 WestJet pilots out of work by the end of April

WestJet will lay off 700 pilots at the end of April, according to an email sent to the whole workforce yesterday. In an email, WestJet said that as of 1st May, 700 pilots would lose their jobs according to their seniority. The approach means that the pilots with the least tenure at the airline will be some of the first to leave.

Under the furlough, pilots will be able to claim a form of salary via the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). This scheme offers pilots 75% of their hourly rate while inactive, which is equivalent to no more than $847 per week.

However, WestJet has more layoffs planned for its pilots. Those pilots who escape the furlough this time round will likely find themselves in May’s batch redundancy. That’s because 1,000 additional pilots will be laid-off from 1st June.

WestJet aircraft
In total, 1,700 WestJet pilots will be let go and will receive a wage via CEWS. Photo: Getty Images

Why is WestJet laying off its pilots?

It’s no secret that the coronavirus has shaken airlines all over the industry. Many are seeking government assistance to help them survive and cutting costs where they can. Furloughing employees is not only a way of conserving finances. It also responds appropriately to the travel demand that airlines are currently experiencing. Simply, there is no need for so many employees when so few flights are operating.

We asked WestJet to explain more about its decision to lay off its pilots. It told us that this was not an easy decision. In a statement shared with Simple Flying, the airline said:

“Issuing layoffs, in response to this crisis, has always been a last resort for WestJet; however, the impact of COVID-19 on the aviation industry is colossal, and WestJet is making difficult but necessary decisions to right-size our airline to weather the crisis.”

It is unfortunate and unprecedented times that have led to WestJet’s decision. It says that it would not have taken this action if it did not have to. With that in mind, does this look like the end for WestJet?

Is WestJet on the brink of collapse?

WestJet MAX 8
Does WestJet’s drastic action suggest that its days are numbered? Photo: ChrisAmaddeo via Wikimedia Commons

The situation for WestJet does not look good. However, does this mean that the airline will never recover? At this point, it’s hard to tell. It’s clear that the airline is struggling financially, due to the lack of demand and the need to lay off its staff.

The issue, of course, for Canadian airlines, is that they are still waiting for that all-important bailout. It’s this funding that could inject a lifeline into airlines like WestJet. Earlier this month, on 7th April, the President of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) in Canada urged the Canadian government to deliver a specific bill for the aviation industry that could help it stay afloat.

Parked WestJet 737s
The President of ALPA is urging the government to help support the airline. Photo: Getty Images

Speaking to the Calgary Herald, Tim Perry who is also a pilot at WestJet, said:

“It is urgent. Time is of the essence. We’ve never seen an airline or an industry so acutely affected, and I would go so far as to say devastated, within a matter of weeks…Airlines, including WestJet, are burning through money every day. They will reach a point where there’s nothing left. I know, from talking to the company, that we can’t say ‘this is where it’s going to end, and it’s going to get better from here.’ It could continue to get worse.”

On 24th March, WestJet served 6,900 notices of voluntary and involuntary leave to its employees. 2,280 of these employees were cabin crew. The 700 pilots will join these members of staff at the end of this month on the CEWS financial program.

How do you believe WestJet will fair in the future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.