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UPDATE 2-Air Canada pilots union considers merger with larger union

(Adds Air Canada no comment, adds details on bargaining)

By Allison Lampert and Aishwarya Nair

MONTREAL, Feb 3 (Reuters) - The major pilots union in North America and the union representing Air Canada pilots have had initial talks about a merger at a time when airlines are under pressure to staff up to meet rebounding travel demand, representatives of the unions told Reuters.

The Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA) represents about 4,500 pilots who fly passengers and cargo for the airline. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the world's largest pilots union, represents more than 60,000 pilots in the United States and Canada.

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A merger of the unions could give the ACPA access to additional bargaining resources as members press to make gains in future bargaining after a pandemic-induced slump in travel.

“ALPA and ACPA pilot leaders met this week for an initial discussion about a potential merger and the benefits of being stronger together," the unions said in a statement to Reuters.

"Any decision on whether to formalize a partnership would ultimately rest with the pilots and their elected leaders at each union," the statement said.

Air Canada declined comment on internal union matters.

ALPA has grown as the North American airline industry as consolidated over the years. The union has added pilots at 12 carriers in Canada and the United States since 2019.

"With fewer airlines to represent, they seem to be doing a better job of representing all pilots," said Helane Becker, an analyst at investment Cowen who tracks the industry.

Pilots at the largest U.S. carrier, American Airlines Group agreed late last year to explore a merger with ALPA, which represents pilots at United Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

The Allied Pilots Assocation (APA) represents about 15,000 pilots at American. An APA committee is expected to issue a report on the potential merger in May.

North American pilots are commanding increased leverage as carriers staff up to meet booming demand, putting pressure on U.S. airline profits.

Delta Air Lines' recent offer to give pilots a 34% cumulative pay increase in a new four-year contract has boosted hopes of similar raises at rivals United Airlines UAL.O and American.

United, Delta, American and Southwest Airlines Co are planning to hire 8,000 pilots this year compared to the historical average of 6,000 to 7,000, United Chief Executive Scott Kirby said recently.

Canada's largest carrier and its pilots reached a 10-year agreement in 2014 that allows bargaining this June on some issues. (Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal and Aishwarya Nair in Bengaluru. Additional reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)