Descending into Greed?
Yet, miraculously, over the next few minutes, a series of remarkable events turned certain tragedy into extraordinary triumph. Everyone on board would live to tell about the undaunted skill of the brave pilots who safely landed their powerless jet against all odds.
This incident, which came to be known as the “Gimli Glider,” occurred on July 23, 1983, shortly after Canada had begun to convert to the metric system. Before takeoff, ground crews put 22,300 pounds of fuel in the plane instead of the required 22,300 kilograms. No one caught the conversion error, and Flight 143 took to the skies with about half the fuel needed to reach its intended destination.
The airline was found to be at fault in the incident, but what is most remembered nearly 30 years later is the extraordinary skill and composure shown by the Air Canada pilots who managed a dangerous landing that saved the lives of everyone on board.
Far from being destroyed by the near-tragic events that took place over Manitoba, Air Canada has thrived and become one of the world’s foremost airlines. In 1988, the former national carrier was privatized. Today, Air Canada is the world’s 15th largest commercial airline, employing about 26,000 workers. By number of destinations served, it is the world’s 10th largest passenger airline, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). In 2011, along with its regional partners, its passengers took 33 million trips to more than 180 destinations on five continents.
Yet, despite such signs of success, warning indicators are going off signaling more trouble on the horizon. Labor problems and fuel prices are taking their toll on the airline. “Air Canada’s first-quarter loss was 11 times higher this year than in 2011 as the airline weathered higher fuel prices, work stoppages by some of its employees and the bankruptcy of the company [Aveos] that formerly overhauled its planes. The Montreal company said… its net loss for the three months ended March 31 was $210 million, including $55 million attributed to discontinued operations at Aveos. Air Canada’s continuing operations also lost more, as they felt the impact of substantially higher fuel prices and labour disruptions. Its loss from continuing operations rose to $93 million from $66 million in the first quarter of 2011. A year earlier, the total first-quarter loss was $19 million…. The contentious labour situation has been an ongoing issue for months, causing some observers to question whether Air Canada is losing business to rivals because of the uncertainty for travellers” (“Air Canada Q1 Results,” HuffingtonPost.ca, May 4, 2012).
Calin Rovinescu, Chief Executive Officer of Air Canada, has been quick to point out that recent work stoppages by some of its union workers over ongoing labour disputes is eroding consumer confidence in the airline while also costing it large sums in related flight cancellations and decreased bookings. “Our operations were disrupted by job action by a number of unionized employees, which resulted in a decline in bookings for travel originating in Canada in the immediate aftermath of these incidents,” he claimed (ibid.).
How do Air Canada workers see the situation? Captain Paul Strachan, president of the Air Canada Pilots Association, said, “The corrosive internal environment being created at the airline raises serious questions about its long-term viability.” Strachan accuses Air Canada executives of “taking ‘huge personal financial rewards’ while the company’s shares hit a 52-week low. He asserts that while the airline’s top executives are the best paid in the Canadian airline industry, pilots’ wages are in many cases below those of competing airlines (“Air Canada pilots’ sick calls ruled an illegal strike,” CBC News, April 14, 2012).
The ongoing dispute has driven customers away, and is affecting the travel of thousands of customers, costing the Canadian economy more than $22 million a week. Labour Minister Lisa Raitt spoke out about the feud, stating, “The Canadian public is caught in this and we’re going to act” (“Air Canada Dominates Parliament Hill,” Post Media News/Calgary Herald, March 14, 2012).
A consideration of some biblical principles may help illuminate the situation. Wise King Solomon long ago stated, “He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house” (Proverbs 15:27). Air Canada’s management would be wise to heed such wisdom in dealing with its employees. Scripture admonishes employers to pay their workers a fair wage. “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18). In God’s eyes, management has a responsibility to treat workers with fairness, respect and dignity. However, greed is not the answer, for management or for workers. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have” (Hebrews 13:5). This does not mean that it is wrong to want to provide better for one’s family. However, in times of great economic distress, having any job is a blessing that should not be minimized.
In another epistle, Paul gave further instructions that would benefit both sides of the labour disputes: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:6–10).
The labour dispute threatening Air Canada is symptomatic of a larger problem facing Canada. The postal system, public transit systems and the schools are continuously in the news as labour disputes pit greedy parties against one another, threatening to shut down essential services, disrupting Canadians’ lives and costing them millions of dollars. How wonderful it would be if such disputes could instead be conducted according to the instructions of Jesus Christ, who wisely taught that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35)! If all parties at Air Canada would put the others first, and would practice the “way of give” rather than the “way of get,” this would provide the lift the organization needs to stay aloft, and would save Canada the black eye of having its flag carrier and largest airline crash into bankruptcy.
Will Air Canada glide to a smooth landing, as one of its famed flights did nearly 30 years ago? Or, will the organization continue its internal feuds until it loses too much altitude to recover? Time is running out, and the economic fuel is beginning to run low. Those at Air Canada need to change their heading, leaving the works of greed behind, before it is too late. By following God’s way of give, Air Canada and other organizations like it can slip back into profitability and turn an impending tragedy into an amazing triumph, just as did the fabled Gimli Glider.