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WestJet to lay off 1,700 pilots after coronavirus shutters airline travel

Last Updated Apr 16, 2020 at 11:52 am EDT

The tail of a WestJet plane is seen dwarfing the Calgary skyline THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

WestJet is planning to lay off up to 1,700 pilots as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has shuttered commercial airline travel.

The union representing the pilots with WestJet, WestJet Encore and Swoop says the first 700 layoffs will take effect May 1 with an additional 1,000 layoffs coming June 1.

The layoffs will be done in reverse seniority order, meaning those pilots who were hired most recently will be the first to be furloughed.

“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,” the airline said in a statement.

WestJet adds that almost three-quarters of its fleet has been grounded due to the dramatic reduction in flying due to COVID-19.

Air Canada said plans to rehire 16,500 laid-off workers via Ottawa’s emergency wage subsidy program after they were let go under a cost reduction program that saw nearly half of the airline’s 36,000 employees lose their jobs.

Air Canada has suspended most international flights until June, while Air Transat and Sunwing Airlines have cancelled all trips until May 31 due to the pandemic.