(Bloomberg) -- WestJet Airlines Ltd., Canada’s second-largest carrier, is canceling flights as it prepares for a potential strike by its maintenance engineers as early as Thursday night.

The Calgary-based company owned by private equity firm Onex Corp. has already canceled around 50 flights in Canada and the US through Thursday. The cancellations will affect about 6,500 travelers and are being done in advance to bring aircraft to convenient locations and reduce the chance of stranding passengers, the company said Tuesday.

“We are immensely disheartened that we are in a position where we must activate our contingency plan and begin parking aircraft, as a result of the strike notice,” Diederik Pen, WestJet’s president, said in a release. 

WestJet could try to bring in replacement workers during a strike to continue technical operations. But the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association — which represents the more than 680 workers that could walk off the job — doesn’t expect the airline would be able to find enough qualified maintenance engineers.

WestJet said cancellations are the only option right now, but that it is working to accommodate passengers and consolidate flights.

“We will make every effort to protect as much flying as possible,” Pen said.

WestJet had reached a tentative agreement with the union in May, but more than 97% of union members rejected the deal.

Although a new agreement isn’t in place yet, a labor action may still be averted. WestJet has requested that the Canadian Industrial Relations Board intervene and enforce binding arbitration, which would avoid a strike. The union opposes that move and said it would like to continue negotiations instead.

“Rather than getting the Canadian Industrial Relations Board involved, let’s just knock this out,” Bret Oestreich, the union’s national president, said in an interview.

Maintenance workers are looking for higher pay as part of the negotiations. WestJet said the tentative agreement would have increased take-home pay by 30% to 40% in the first year. The union said that half of that increase had already been allocated to members in their retirement funds.

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