Canadian airline WestJet has begun grounding aircraft to minimize operational disruption and side effects ahead of Friday’s planned strike by pilots.

WestJet Group is carrying out a lockout so it can take down its network in an orderly way. Canceling flights gradually will avoid stranding aircraft in remote locations without support and allow communication with customers to change their plans before their scheduled flights.

The labor action will negatively impact cargo customers, including companies utilizing the all-cargo network WestJet launched barely one month ago with three Boeing 737-800 converted freighters.

“The decision to cancel flights comes as the WestJet Group remains in a stalemate with the union regarding unreasonable wage expectations that if realized would permanently damage the financial viability of the group’s future,” the company said in a statement Wednesday night.

“We deeply regret the disruption this will have on the travel plans of our guests and the communities and businesses that rely on our critical air service,” said CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech. “We remain at a critical impasse with the union and have been left with no choice but to begin taking the painful steps of preparing for the reality of a work stoppage.”

WestJet said it is parking the majority of its Boeing 737 narrowbody and 787 long-haul fleet in a phased approach. Bookings have started to decrease because of the uncertainty surrounding future operations.

More than 1,800 pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, want to be compensated similarly to their counterparts at other North American carriers. WestJet officials say giving Canadian pilots U.S.-type compensation is not feasible because of wide differences in the nations’ economies and that its proposal would make its narrowbody crews the highest paid in Canada. 

Pilots in the U.S. typically make twice as much as those in Canada.

ALPA disputes WestJet’s characterization of industry wages.

Air Canada’s 5,000 pilots officially joined ALPA this week. Having more Canadian pilots represented by one union will allow them to more effectively influence the Canadian government and employers as they push for a North American standard wage.

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