[LONDON, ON] — Chorus Aviation Inc. is rejuvenating its fleet by adding six new Bombardier Q400 NextGen airplanes, a move its union says will result in the closure of a maintenance base and job losses.
The company, which runs regional flights for Air Canada, said Thursday it exercised six of 15 options to buy the new planes, which will be operated by its Jazz Aviation subsidiary, under the Air Canada Express brand.
Bombardier said the order is valued at about US$189 million. Chorus has made US$13 million in pre-delivery payments.
The new aircraft will replace nine 50-seat CRJ 100 regional jets and result in a more efficient fleet, Chorus president and chief executive Joe Randell said.
"The replacement of the older regional jets by these efficient, state-of-the-art aircraft will translate into better operating economics and passenger comfort with less environmental impact," he said. "While our total current seat capacity is relatively unchanged, these larger, fuel-efficient turboprops will reduce our cost per available seat mile."
However, the Canadian Auto Workers union says the acquisition will result in the closure of a heavy maintenance base in London, Ont.
About 200 people will be affected by the closure, 150 CAW union members and 50 management staff, but workers will be offered employment at other locations based on seniority, with an end result of 55 fewer maintenance workers at Jazz.
The base is expected to close next summer, leaving Jazz with one heavy maintenance base in Halifax.
CAW said Halifax is expected to add 90 positions and laid off London employees will be able to bump others in the union from Halifax or any of its other facilities across the country.
Ron Smith, CAW's director of transportation said the company had told the union it would have to close either its Halifax or London plants due to the new jet purchase during labour negotiations.
But he added the two sides are working to resolve issues surrounding paid moves and retention payments for members in London before it reaches a new collective agreement with the company.
Bargaining talks between the CAW, which represents some 800 Jazz technical service employees, stalled last month, but are slated to resume July 23.
Major concerns for the union include wages, benefits and pensions, as well as scheduling hours of work.
The six Q400 planes, which carry 74 passengers, are slated for delivery at a rate of two per month in February, March and April of 2013 and will be operational about a month after delivery.
The retired CRJs will be removed from the fleet between December and May, reducing the fleet available to Air Canada to 122 aircraft.