Porter to lay off 20% of Ottawa staff, contract out baggage service

Porter plane

Porter Airlines says it is permanently laying off about 20 per cent of its Ottawa-based employees in the wake of a year-long shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Toronto-based carrier told OBJ it will not be rehiring more than 20 baggage handlers from its Ottawa operations who’ve been on temporary layoff since the company suspended flights last March. 

Porter, which announced earlier this month it’s tentatively planning to return to the skies on May 19, says a third-party contractor will handle its baggage services in Ottawa when the carrier resumes operations.

“Like other airlines, the extent of the industry’s challenges have forced us to consider how we can best manage a multi-year recovery period,” a company spokesman said in an email to OBJ on Thursday. 

“This change provides ongoing staffing efficiency and operational flexibility while we rebuild a full schedule of flights.”

Porter says it hopes the new contractor will hire some of the laid-off workers, adding it “ensured that existing team members have the first opportunity to apply for these roles.”

About 90 per cent of the airline’s more than 1,500 employees have been on temporary layoff since Porter stopped flying last March 21. The company employed about 100 people in Ottawa before the shutdown.

The layoffs come at a precarious time for the Canadian airline industry, which has been pummelled by the pandemic. 

The country’s largest carriers, Air Canada and WestJet, have been in talks with the federal government over a bailout package that could be worth up to $9 billion, according to union officials. Meanwhile, WestJet recently cancelled orders for 15 Boeing 737 Max aircraft, while Air Canada cut new orders earlier in the pandemic.

Airport terminals are also feeling the pinch as passenger volumes have plummeted over the past year.

The CEO of the Ottawa International Airport Authority, Mark Laroche, recently told OBJ the facility lost more than $50 million last year and is projecting a shortfall of at least $70 million in 2021 as the number of daily flights in and out of YOW has dwindled to about a dozen, down from around 110 pre-COVID.