The exodus of Canadian pilots to the United States saw a dramatic threefold increase in 2022, as revealed by previously undisclosed data from the U.S. government.
This surge in applications, which jumped from 39 in 2021 to 147 in 2022, has ignited concerns about an impending shortage of pilots in Canada, further exacerbated by the allure of higher wages in the U.S.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported a nearly twofold rise in foreign applications overall, reaching a total of 1,442, with Canadian pilots leading the pack.
The magnetic appeal of historic wage hikes in the U.S., despite the challenges of immigration delays and costs, is drawing foreign aviators, according to insights from lawyers, unions, and pilots in the industry.
Although the increase in U.S. applications is modest, industry insiders are sounding the alarm for regional Canadian carriers, who are grappling with their own staffing shortages.
Similar to their U.S. counterparts, these carriers are experiencing the migration of pilots to larger airlines.
This trend is worrisome for Air Canada, especially as negotiations with its pilots are underway, and their contract is set to expire on September 29.
Resource pressures due to the industry-wide pilot scarcity compelled Air Canada to announce the suspension of six non-stop flights from Calgary, effective at the end of October.
The implications of this pilot drain are echoed by experts who anticipate potential strains on regional routes, ultimately leading to reduced frequencies and service cuts.
Sunwing Airlines is emblematic of the broader trend, with around 10% of their pilot workforce, approximately 490 individuals, expressing interest in pursuing opportunities in the U.S.
This dynamic has prompted concerns among unions and aviation management experts.
Among Canadian pilots, a considerable number have sought guidance from Attorney Jean-Francois Harvey, with around 29% of the 560 foreign pilots he assisted in the past year originating from Canada.
This includes pilots from prominent carriers like Air Canada, WestJet, and Sunwing.
The pay gap between Canadian carriers like Air Canada and U.S. counterparts such as United Airlines is expected to grow substantially, reaching an astonishing 92% in 2024 for certain categories of experienced pilots.
This disparity is alarming for industry insiders who foresee a cascading effect, wherein larger airlines attract talent away from smaller carriers, leading to potentially damaging reductions in frequencies and services.
The Aviation Management Faculty Lecturer at McGill University, John Gradek, stressed the importance of addressing these challenges, as the ripple effects could potentially reshape the aviation landscape in Canada.
John McKenna, the CEO of the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), which represents smaller Canadian carriers, corroborated this viewpoint by highlighting the current struggles faced by all players in the industry.