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In The News for Jan. 19: Are discount airlines straining Canada's pilot supply?

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Jan. 19 ... What we are watching in Canada ...
An Air Canada flight departing for Toronto, bottom, taxis to a runway as a WestJet flight bound for Palm Springs takes off at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Friday, March 20, 2020. Experts say the rapid expansion of the discount airline industry is contributing to a pilot shortage in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Jan. 19 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

With their promise of cheaper fares and no unnecessary frills, a flurry of so-called "discount airlines" have burst onto the Canadian scene in the last few years.

But experts say the low-cost airline model is exacerbating an already existing pilot shortage that could become an even bigger problem for this country's aviation industry in the years to come.

Start-up discount airlines — such as Edmonton-based Flair Airlines, Calgary-based Lynx, and WestJet subsidiary Swoop — have been rapidly expanding across Canada since the COVID-19 pandemic, gambling that there's enough pent-up demand from budget-conscious travellers to support additional capacity.

While each operates slightly differently, the basic premise of a low-cost airline is that travellers receive stripped-down service in exchange for low basic fares. Things like carry-on and checked bags, snacks and beverages, and cancellation protection are all considered extras and must be paid for separately.

The jury is still out on which, if any, of these upstart airlines will survive in a crowded field. However, experts say the rapid proliferation of new flights and routes is putting pressure on the aviation labour market — including for pilots.

A pilot shortage has been brewing in Canada for years, based on a variety of factors including an aging workforce, pandemic-related layoffs and early retirements, and spiralling training costs. (Becoming a commercial pilot can now cost upwards of $100,000, discouraging some young people from entering the profession, experts say).

Last week, vacation airline Sunwing blamed its spate of holiday season flight disruptions and cancellations in part on a pilot shortage, telling the federal transport committee that the government's decision to deny the airline's recent application to hire 63 temporary foreign workers (TFW) for pilot roles impacted its ability to deliver service.

Tim Perry — president of the Canadian division of the Air Line Pilots Association, the union that represents pilots at a number of Canadian airlines, including WestJet and Transat (but not Sunwing) — said that argument is "absurd." He said he doesn't believe any Canadian airline that compensates its pilots appropriately should need to hire TFWs.

However, Perry said there are real labour challenges in the aviation industry. He said flight schools, northern and regional airlines in particular are struggling to recruit certified pilots, in part because new carriers are hiring pilots who otherwise would have gone to work at some of these smaller operators. And because discount carriers don't pay as well as Air Canada or WestJet, lower-cost airlines also struggle with retention.


Also this ...

A year after a family of four from India froze to death while trying to walk to the United States from Manitoba, the agency tasked with patrolling the border says others have not been deterred from attempting the same treacherous journey.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has seen a drastic uptick in recent months of people trying to enter North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin illegally from Canada.

Those states have seen about 90 apprehensions since October, said Kathryn Siemer, acting patrol agent in charge of the station in Pembina, N.D. The same area saw roughly 80 apprehensions from October 2021 to September 2022.

The frozen bodies of Jagdish Patel, 39; his wife Vaishaliben Patel, 37; their 11-year-old daughter, Vihangi; and their three-year-old son, Dharmik, were found on Jan. 19, 2022, near Emerson, Man., just metres from the U.S. border.

Investigators believe a human smuggling network was behind the family's journey to Canada from a village in the state of Gujarat in western India, as well as the border-crossing attempt.

The family was dropped off near the border in frigid temperatures and was trying to cross into the U.S. on foot among a larger group when the four became separated.

Data from the U.S. Border Patrol's online dashboard shows nearly 2,250 encounters at the northern land border for 2022 — on par with figures before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Loosened travel restrictions could account for the uptick, said Siemer. She added the agency is seeing more people from Mexico try the northern route as opposed to the southern border, which has more agents and infrastructure.

The dashboard shows there were approximately 1,000 encounters with people from Mexico at the northern land border last year.


What we are watching in the U.S. ...

WASHINGTON _ President Joe Biden is set to tour damage and be briefed on recovery efforts after devastating storms hit California in recent weeks, killing at least 20 people and causing destruction across 41 of the state's 58 counties.

The president, accompanied by FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state and local officials, will visit Thursday the storm-damaged Capitola Pier in Santa Cruz County, where he will meet with business owners and affected residents.

Biden will also meet with first responders and deliver remarks on supporting the state's recovery at nearby Seacliff State Park.

"Over 500 FEMA and other federal personnel have already deployed to California to support response and recovery operations and are working side by side with the state to ensure all needs are indeed met on the ground,'' White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday.

Biden has already approved a major disaster declaration for the state, freeing up additional federal resources for recovery efforts. Hours ahead of the visit, he raised the level of federal assistance available even higher.

From Dec. 26 to Jan. 17, the entire state of California averaged 11.47 inches of rain and snow, according to the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center, with some reports of up to 15 feet of snow falling over the three-week period in the highest elevations of the Sierra Nevada.

California gets much of its rain and snow in the winter from a weather phenomenon known as "atmospheric rivers'' _ long, narrow bands of water vapour that form over the ocean and flow through the sky.

California has been hit by nine atmospheric rivers since late December. The storms have relented in recent days, although forecasters were calling for light rain toward the end of this week followed by a dry period.


What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

LIMA, Peru _ People poured into Peru's coastal capital, many from remote Andean regions, for a protest Thursday against President Dina Boluarte and in support of her predecessor, whose ouster last month launched deadly unrest and cast the nation into political chaos.

Supporters of former president Pedro Castillo, Peru's first leader from a rural Andean background, hope the protest opens a new chapter in the weeks-long movement to demand Boluarte's resignation, immediate elections and structural change in the country. Castillo was impeached after a failed attempt to dissolve Congress.

The protests have so far been held mainly in Peru's southern Andes, with 53 people dying amid the unrest, the large majority killed in clashes with security forces

The demonstrations and subsequent clashes with security forces amount to the worst political violence Peru has experienced in more than two decades and has shined a spotlight on the deep divisions that exist in the country between the urban elite largely concentrated in Lima and the poor rural areas, where citizens have often feel relegated.

By bringing the protest to Lima, demonstrators hope to give fresh weight to the movement that began when Boluarte, who was the vice president, was sworn into office on Dec. 7 to replace Castillo.

"When there are tragedies, bloodbaths outside the capital it doesn't have the same political relevance in the public agenda than if it took place in the capital,'' said Alonso Cardenas, a professor of public policies at the Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University in Lima. "The leaders have understood that and say, they can massacre us in Cusco, in Puno, and nothing happens, we need to take the protest to Lima,'' Cardenas added, citing two cities that have seen protest violence.

The concentration of protesters in Lima also reflects how the capital has started to see more antigovernment demonstrations in recent days.

"Lima, which hadn't joined the protests at all in the first phase in December, decided to join after the Juliaca massacre,'' Omar Coronel, a political science professor at the Catholic University of Peru, said, referring to the 18 people killed in that southern city on Jan. 9.

The protesters on Thursday are planning to march from downtown Lima to the Miraflores district, one of the emblematic neighbourhoods of the country's economic elite.

The government has called on protesters to be peaceful.


On this day in 1943 ...

Princess Margriet of the Netherlands was born in an Ottawa hospital. Crown Princess Juliana, who became queen in 1948, and her two oldest daughters, fled from the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in 1940 and eventually came to Canada.


In entertainment ...

SANTA FE, N.M. _ A Santa Fe district attorney will announce Thursday whether charges will be brought in the fatal 2021 film-set shooting of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin during a rehearsal of the Western ``Rust.''

Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said a decision will be announced Thursday morning in a statement and on social media, without public appearances by prosecutors.

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins died shortly after being wounded by a gunshot during setup for a scene at the ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe on Oct. 21, 2021. Baldwin was pointing a pistol at Hutchins when the gun went off, killing her and wounding the director, Joel Souza.

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza, who led the initial investigation into Hutchins' death, described "a degree of neglect'' on the film set. But he left decisions about potential criminal charges to prosecutors after delivering the results of a yearlong investigation in October. That report did not specify how live ammunition wound up on the film set.

Taking control of the investigation, Carmack-Altwies was granted an emergency $300,000 request for the state to pay for a special prosecutor, special investigator and other experts and personnel.

Baldwin _ known for his roles in "30 Rock'' and "The Hunt for Red October'' and his impression of former president Donald Trump on "Saturday Night Live'' _ has described the killing of Hutchins as a "tragic accident.''

He has sought to clear his name by suing people involved in handling and supplying the loaded gun that was handed to him on set. Baldwin, also a co-producer on "Rust,'' said he was told the gun was safe.

In his lawsuit, Baldwin said that while working on camera angles with Hutchins during rehearsal for a scene, he pointed the gun in her direction and pulled back and released the hammer of the gun, which discharged.

New Mexico's Office of the Medical Investigator determined the shooting was an accident following the completion of an autopsy and a review of law enforcement reports.

New Mexico's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau has levied the maximum fine against Rust Movie Productions, based on a scathing narrative of safety failures, including testimony that production managers took limited or no action to address two misfires of blank ammunition on set prior to the fatal shooting.


Did you see this?

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. _ A B.C. First Nation and provincial government have signed what's being called a historic agreement towards jointly managing land, water and resource development.

The agreement, signed Wednesday with the Blueberry River First Nations in northeastern B.C., includes a $200-million restoration fund and timelines for plans to manage watersheds and oil and gas activities in parts of the First Nations' claim area, which covers four per cent of the province.

The deal comes after a 2021 B.C. Supreme Court decision found the provincial government breached obligations under Treaty 8, signed by the Blueberry River First Nations in 1900, because it allowed development such as forestry and natural gas extraction without the community's approval.

The court heard more than 84 per cent of the nation's territory is within 500 metres of an industrial disturbance.

Under the new agreement, the two sides will spend the next three years creating four Watershed Management Basin plans for all natural resource sector activities in areas considered the most important to the nation.

The plans will set out old-growth forest levels, reserves, and "promote sustainable economies and resilient communities,'' the government says.

In the next 18 months, they'll also come up with three plans for oil and gas development in the area.

In the meantime, the two sides have agreed to a timber harvesting schedule outside core areas, and are limiting new land disturbances caused by oil and gas development to 750 hectares annually.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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