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Aveos still idle despite ruling

Air Canada broke law, judge rules

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Aveos' former hangars in Winnipeg remain ready for action. They're being heated, and Air Canada continues to make its lease payments.

But the hangars sit empty and are likely to stay that way in the near future, despite a court ruling Monday that Air Canada broke the law by contracting out major aircraft repairs that were the lifeblood of the Winnipeg operation.

A Quebec judge ruled Air Canada violated the law by not keeping maintenance operations in Winnipeg and Montreal.

The court ruling is not going to bring jobs back to Manitoba in the near future, said Tony Didoshak, regional representative of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represented the Aveos workers.

"It's not like they are going to start Winnipeg and Montreal up immediately," he said.

Didoshak said the ruling marks one step in a process that will likely take many more months, if not longer, to complete, and he's cynical about the process in general.

"The ruling says Air Canada is not in compliance with the act," he said. "But it's up to government to determine what the act means and how they become compliant."

Justice Martin Castonguay of the Quebec Superior Court ruled that Air Canada violated the 1988 Air Canada Participation Act by contracting out major aircraft repairs and that, by law, the company must have aircraft heavy maintenance operations in Winnipeg and Montreal. "The court concludes that Air Canada doesn't respect the law put in place when it privatized in 1988," the judge wrote.

Air Canada will appeal the ruling.

The ACPA was passed in 1988 as part of the process for Air Canada to become a private company. Among the provisions was one "requiring the corporation to maintain operational and overhaul centres in the city of Winnipeg, the Montreal Urban Community and the city of Mississauga."

Since 2004, most of the maintenance work was done by Aveos, a private company in which Air Canada owned about one-fifth of the shares. In March 2012, Aveos went bankrupt and closed its operations, including a plant in Winnipeg that employed 412 people. Plants in Montreal and Mississauga, Ont., were also shuttered, throwing a total of 2,600 people out of work.

After Aveos closed, Air Canada gave American company AAR a five-year renewable contract to maintain its airplanes in a specially built facility in Duluth, Minn., which employs 350 workers.

The Quebec government took the airline to court, arguing Air Canada violated the agreement to keep maintenance operations in those cities. Manitoba was an intervenor in the case.

"This is a positive ruling for Manitoba as the Quebec Court has ruled that by closing its maintenance and overhaul facilities in Montreal it is in violation of the Air Canada Public Participation Act," said Matt Williamson, a spokesman for Premier Greg Selinger. "Unfortunately, it appears that Air Canada will appeal this ruling. If so, Manitoba will consider its options."

Last March, Transport Minister Denis Lebel asked the House of Commons transport committee to determine whether Air Canada broke the law. The committee met twice on the subject in March and April 2012 but has produced no report nor scheduled further meetings.

Air Canada says the Quebec and Manitoba governments have no jurisdiction because aviation is a federal matter.

Manitoba Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux said he'd like to see the federal and provincial governments both fight harder to save the well-paying jobs.


-- with files from Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2013 A4

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