WestJet CEO Ed Sims finds Air Canada aid package 'bittersweet' as talks drag on

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OTTAWA — WestJet CEO Ed Sims says the federal government's aid package for Air Canada could be "problematic" unless his company gets equitable treatment, as talks over pandemic relief continue between Ottawa and Canadian carriers.

In a memo obtained by The Canadian Press, Sims tells employees the government is now the fourth-largest shareholder in their biggest competitor, spurring him to insist on comparable terms at the negotiating table.

He says it was "bittersweet" to learn of a pandemic relief deal that grants Air Canada up to $5.4 billion in loans plus a six per cent equity stake in the company in exchange for pledges to refund passengers, restore regional routes and maintain current job levels.

Sims says he is asking the government for new aircraft financing, domestic tourism stimulus and supply-chain reform to avoid price hikes of the sort imposed on carriers by Canada's civil air navigation service last year.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday that talks continue with Canadian airlines, including WestJet.

Travel restrictions introduced through the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic have been catastrophic for the airline sector, as passenger numbers and profits plummeted and tens of thousands of workers lost their jobs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2021.

The Canadian Press