Air Transat pilots are poised for a possible strike over stalled contract negotiations.

Monday saw 524 of the pilots at the Montreal-based airline vote 97 per cent in favour of a strike mandate, should such action be required.

The pilots have been without a contract since their collective agreement expired on April 30, 2015.

The vote puts the pilots in a legal position to strike as early as Feb. 29, but a representative said he hopes it won't be necessary.

"I don't see any reason to be worried right now," Capt. Patrice Roy, chairman of Air Transat's chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, told CBC News.

However, Roy said the union and Air Transat management remain far apart as they come to the end of a 60-day arbitration period.

'It may be necessary'

Feb. 7 is the deadline for an agreement. After that, a 21-day "cooling-off" period begins, after which both parties will gain the right to strike or lockout

"We're 100 per cent ready to do everything the law allows to bring parity for our roles within the industry. A strike is never the ideal path to reaching agreement, but our pilots have demonstrated that they realize it may be necessary," Roy said in a statement.

He said the pilots agreed to salary freezes when the airline was facing financial troubles and now want their fair share as the company does better.

"Now that the company is making money, we're just looking to get back on track with industry standards," he said.

Strike can be avoided, airline says

Air Transat responded on Tuesday with a statement saying a strike is "never necessary."

"We are disappointed that our pilots are now envisaging a strike, a tactic that is unwarranted," said Air Transat spokesman Michel Lemay.

"We are of the view that it can be avoided. We certainly wish to reach an agreement, as was always the case in the past." 

To date, the airline's operations are not affected by the situation, Lemay said.

Still, some travel agents say the potential strike couldn't come at a worse time.

"With the travel market right now being hit with the Zika virus and [high] U.S. dollar, I don't know that our industry can take another hit," said Katherine Velan of Voyages Groupe Ideal.

"When you book an Air Transat ticket, it's non-refundable, so I'm telling my clients to sit tight because I'm hoping that Air Transat's not going to let the pilots go on strike because they can't afford to take the hit either."

Debbie Jardine, who booked a family vacation to the Carribean on Air Transat later this month, is concerned she'll be unable to return home if a strike goes into effect.

"I do have a job I need to get back to," Jardine said.  

Air Transat is part of Transat A.T., which operates an integrated travel business that includes flights and vacation packages in North America, Europe and elsewhere.

with files from The Canadian Press