The union representing pilots with WestJet's regional subsidiary has turned to Ottawa for a dispute resolution after contract talks reached a “near standstill” in recent days.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents more than 300 WestJet Encore aviators, said Tuesday it has kicked off the conciliation process by filing for help with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

The request leaves the labour minister 15 days to appoint a conciliation officer who will work with both sides toward an agreement - with possible picketing or strikes to follow if a deal fails to materialize after two months of talks.

Carin Kenny, who chairs the union's WestJet Encore contingent, said “drastic improvement” in pay and career advancement is key, as the pilots demand gains comparable with those of their colleagues at the carrier's mainline service last year.

“Momentum at the negotiating table has come to a near standstill,” Kenny said in a release.

“Despite preferring to have a career within the WestJet group of companies, experienced pilots are leaving due to the poor wages, working conditions and unknown career progression.”

WestJet sought to ease any concerns about potential labour unrest, saying conciliation marks a common step in the negotiation process.

“We are committed to productive discussions in pursuit of reasonable outcomes to collaboratively reach an agreement with ALPA. Our focus remains on jointly addressing issues raised by our valued pilots and ensuring business as usual for the travelling public as we move through this process,” said WestJet spokeswoman Madison Kruger in an email.

In June, 1,800 pilots with WestJet and the now defunct Swoop - the budget subsidiary was folded into WestJet's mainline operation last fall - ratified an agreement that granted a 24 per cent pay bump over four years.

Bargaining came down to the wire, with WestJet cancelling more than 230 flights in preparation for job action before a deal was reached hours ahead of the strike deadline in May.

WestJet Encore pilots have been without a contract since Jan. 1.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 16, 2024.