Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'm very pleased to be speaking on Bill and leading off on the committee stage of debate on the airline passenger bill of rights.
I'd like to begin by thanking Mario Laframboise and the Bloc caucus and Dennis Bevington and the NDP caucus for their ongoing support of this bill. I'd also like to thank Gerry Byrne, Joe Volpe, and the Liberal caucus for supporting this bill at second reading. Without all three parties' support we would not be here today discussing the details of this bill.
Mr. Chairman, the Air Passengers' Bill of Rights flows from private member's motion 465, introduced last year by Gerry Byrne and passed unanimously by this House of Commons.
The motion has still not been acted upon by this government. Instead there was a voluntary agreement called “Flight Rights Canada”, which had no effect in law but did promise that tarmac delays, for example, would not exceed 90 minutes. Even the airlines now recognize that 90 minutes is the maximum time to confine people on a plane.
What did the airlines do? They proceeded to keep people on the tarmac for six or eight hours, just three months after they agreed on September 7 to adhere to flight rights. So much for flight rights.
On March 2, 2009, the airlines decided they would put flight rights in their tariff, voluntarily letting the Canadian Transportation Agency enforce it. Unfortunately, these tariffs are airline-specific, and the only passengers who will be protected are those on the four airlines that adopted flight rights. That's just four airlines. That doesn't even include all the Canadian airlines. For example, all foreign carriers would be excluded. That's why we need Bill . Bill covers all carriers operating in Canada.
Furthermore, even if the four airlines do not follow their own tariffs, there are no penalties if they do not comply with the flight rights provisions. They did not follow through the last time, so why would we believe they would do so now?
We've heard criticisms that fares may rise as a result of Bill . I ask you, did the fares rise as a result of Air Canada's president earning $26 million in 2007? If the airlines follow the rules in Bill C-310, they won't pay a cent.
The news media have tried to find out how much Air Canada has paid out to passengers in Europe as a result of the European legislation enacted in February 2005, and so far no one has been able to find out. How much did Air Canada pay under the previous European legislation in 1991, which dealt with denied boarding only? This information is important to know when determining the financial impact on the airline. Did Air Canada stop flying in Europe because of this legislation? Absolutely not.
Bill does not require an air carrier to pay compensation to a passenger with respect to a flight delayed or cancelled due to weather. A flight that is cancelled due to weather falls within the exemption that is provided for in the bill. We've taken the exclusion from the EU law and put it verbatim into the bill, giving the airlines the extraordinary circumstance exclusion that they've used in Europe for the last four years, and they're very familiar with it.
If the air carrier can prove that the cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances that could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken, then the air carrier is not required to pay compensation to the passengers. This is the standard that has been adopted by the European Union. Cancellation due to weather clearly falls within this exemption and would not be covered by the bill.
All an air carrier is required to do in the case of cancellation due to weather is reimburse the passenger, which is reasonable; reroute the passenger; cover meals and refreshments in relation to the waiting, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that; provide hotel accommodation if a stay of one or more nights is required; provide ground transportation between the airport and the place of accommodation; and provide a total of two telephone calls, fax calls, or e-mails. There's nothing here that is unreasonable for an air carrier to do.
The EU commissioned a study about two years ago, after the rules were in effect, and while the airlines have been aggressive in Europe in using the extraordinary circumstances argument to avoid paying compensation, all stakeholders agreed that the extraordinary circumstances exclusion was still a good and fair balance between the customer's right to compensation and fairness toward the airline.
There is a very comprehensive Steer Davies Gleave report, which I have here. It's probably 100-plus pages long. It studied this whole area and came to the conclusion that the extraordinary circumstances exclusion was the best vehicle to use in this circumstance.
The reason for extraordinary circumstances is to ensure that the bill is able to survive court challenges. In Europe it survived two. The bill covers denied boarding due to overbooked flights and encourages trying to get people off the flight by agreement, not by forcing them off the plane.
I was on a Northwest Airlines flight from Minneapolis several years ago. The airline had overbooked by six people, and volunteers to deplane were offered free passes. Everybody was happy with that result, and I'm sure they are still talking about it to this day. In Canada, for example, WestJet and Air North, Yukon's airline, do not overbook, so they will pay nothing.
The point is that happy customers are what the airlines need. If airlines have to deny boarding to customers involuntarily, then why should they not be paying the compensation of $500, $800, or $1,200, based on the length of the trip? The same compensation applies to cancelled flights. Europe has been doing this for four years, and Bill was inspired by the EU legislation, which has been in effect since February 17, 2005. Air Canada operates in Europe and under that legislation. The review panel notes that the EU airlines try to use the exemption as often as possible to avoid paying compensation to passengers. The airlines fought the EU legislation in court and lost. This legislation is sound and is backed up by the courts.
If MPs think that the penalties of the bill are too high, then they can propose amendments reducing penalties to a more appropriate level. In most cases, we accepted the compensation levels in the EU law. The original EU legislation from 1991—there was a bill in effect before 2005—dealt with denied boarding only. The compensation levels were only one half of what they are in Europe today. The 2005 rewrite to the EU legislation doubled the compensation and expanded the scope of the regulation to include cancellations, flight delays, and charter flights. The review panel that I spoke to you about said, just two years later, that the penalties were just fine the way they were; they were not too high and not too low.
Mr. Chairman, why should passengers not have a right to cancel and get a refund after a five-hour delay? Last year there were flights to Mexico that were cancelled through no fault of the people, and they were denied the right to get their money back. We say that if they're going to a cancel a flight, you have a right to a refund after a five-hour delay—not that many people will take them up on the option. Why should passengers not get a meal voucher after a two-hour delay? Why should passengers not get a $100 payment if the airline misplaces their baggage and doesn't notify them within an hour after finding it? Will $100 bankrupt the airlines? Or will it cause them to smarten up and stop misplacing the baggage in the first place, not notifying the passenger when the baggage is found?
Why should customers not expect better service? Why should passengers not be informed of flight changes, delays, and cancellations? Why should the new rules not be posted at the airline counters to inform customers of their rights and the process to file for compensation? Why should the public not expect all-in-one pricing, so that they know the total cost of the flight before they click the “buy” button?
While the intention of the legislation is for voluntary payment directly from the airline to the passengers, because EU carriers have fought the law so hard in Europe, it has taken the small claims court system to get settlements for passengers. There is no lawyer required. Passengers in Canada can still complain to the Canadian Transportation Agency, but as in Europe, the transportation agencies are not the ones that are getting the payments; it's the small claims courts that are getting people settlements. In fact, recently a large number of British Airways passengers received their settlements through small claims courts.
Mr. Chairman, Bill is fair to customers and to the airlines. The airlines who follow the rules will not pay a cent. Airlines that claim extraordinary circumstances too often will risk getting even tougher rules in the future. Bill C-310 applies to all Canadian air carriers and all air carrier operations that take place in Canada, rather than to the flight rights only, which cover only four carriers and have no specified penalties.
Why should an Air Canada customer receive better treatment in Europe than in Canada?
The airlines are suggesting that is not flexible enough on tarmac delays.
Well, Mr. Chairman, paragraph 6(1)(d) on page 5 of the bill says:
||an opportunity to disembark from the aircraft if it is possible to do so without causing any undue risk to the health or safety of the passengers or any other person or to the safe operation of the aircraft or any other aircraft.
All the airlines have to do is keep fresh air and lights working, make sure the toilets are working, make sure food and water are provided, and allow for disembarkation if it's possible to do so without risk to the health or safety of the passengers. If they're unable to do these things, why should they not compensate passengers? If the $500 amount is too high, then bring in an amendment to lower it.
We need a law, but enforcement is a big issue. It's really up to the passengers themselves. They cannot take action if there's no law to protect them, but if there is a law, those passengers who are alert will take action.
I've answered the question many times about what it will cost the airlines, and the truth is it will cost the airlines nothing if they simply follow the rules.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I appreciate the opportunity to join with you on what I and my colleagues in the House of Commons obviously think is a very serious issue.
As Mr. Maloway pointed out in his earlier words to us, his legislation today follows on a motion that was unanimously passed in the House of Commons calling on the Government of Canada to bring forward this kind of legislation.
While I think it's important to say that we all appreciate that you're open to amendments, there will probably be an intense lobby effort to try to convince parliamentarians that the essence of this bill is wrong, that it's not going to do justice either to passengers or to the industry. While it may be easy to dwell on certain aspects of this, I think it is abundantly clear that the overall thrust of having consumer protection in the airline industry in the 21st century is an absolute must. That is the overriding preoccupation here.
and I were talking about this issue as I was forming my motion just a little over a year ago. We noted the situation that had faced the Cubana air passengers. There were domestic passengers as well. It wasn't just international passengers coming into Canada from Havana in this particular instance; other passengers were flying domestically as well.
Despite what some have suggested, there are basically no rules governing or providing for protections to airline passengers once they get past security and have their boarding passes. In fact, we noted that in the Cubana situation, after the passengers had spent 12 hours on board the aircraft here at Ottawa International Airport and after their five-hour flight before that, apparently the only way the RCMP duty officer at the time could actually render assistance to a passenger on board who had called 9-1-1 was to invoke the potential of the Criminal Code in dealing with forcible confinement. He had no tools available to him through the Aeronautics Act or through aviation regulation to allow for assistance to get those passengers off after they had spent 17 hours on that plane. That really tells the tale of the state of consumer protection in the airline industry in Canada.
You mentioned something about the European Union. We all know that the European Union has pretty strong and effective consumer protection for airline passengers. In fact, it invoked it across the entire 26-member European Union as a common market. Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat, and other Canadian air carriers currently fly into the European Union. Could you clarify whether those Canadian carriers are actually subject to the European Union airline passenger bill of rights? I think I know the answer, but it would be good to get it on record.
Second, Canada recently signed an open skies agreement with the European Union. Not only was it an open skies agreement, but we also agreed to create greater barrier-free access to European air carriers in Canada and to Canadian air carriers operating in Europe. We also agreed, as part of that, to harmonize regulatory safety standards.
This is an interesting situation. We're harmonizing the market systems of airline carriers in Europe, but we're also prepared to harmonize our safety systems. Why don't you think we're prepared to harmonize consumer protections? The European Union has a legislated consumer protection regime that every European base carrier airline has to operate under, even when they're outside European airspace. Canada is obliged to operate that...when they leave European airspace, leave the European aerodrome.
Why do you think we left that particular provision out?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Byrne, in actual fact, yes, Canadian carriers who fly into Europe do fall under the European rules. I had a letter just last week from a gentleman from Newfoundland who was on a flight from Rome. He was two hours late leaving Rome, so they gave him a meal voucher. By the time he got to Toronto to connect to his Newfoundland flight, he was three hours late. He said Air Canada simply dumped him. When he asked for a meal voucher, they said, “No, you get a meal voucher after a two-hour delay in Europe, but it's a four-hour delay in Canada. As for the hotel, forget about it; you're on your own.” He thought it right to write me a letter about this whole issue.
The airline can give us statistics. I hope members of the committee do ask the airline representatives for information on how much they have paid in penalties from 1991 onward for denied boarding only, and then from 2005 onward on how much they have paid in penalties and compensation for denied boarding and cancelled flights. That would be very important to know, because I honestly don't know. It seems to me that if they were paying a lot of penalties, they would either have to change their way of operating in Europe or else quit flying there. I haven't see any evidence yet that Air Canada is going to quit flying to Europe.
I might point out to you as well that in terms of the Steer Davies Gleave report that was done two years after the 2005 European regulations, it was very difficult to get information from the airlines. They requested information of the very type that I'm telling you about right now, and they couldn't get information. The committee may wish to have a representative from this body that did an independent analysis of the European regulation. They're totally unbiased. The person is very willing to cooperate with you and will not take a view one way or the other on the regulation.
At the end of the day, they recommended that the European rules should stay with the extraordinary circumstances. I'm sure the airlines will be asking you to have a clear definition of what that means. At the end of the day, on balance, this organization recommended that they should stick with what is working right now.
Thank you very much, Mr. Maloway, for your presentation.
You stated at the outset that your bill had obtained the support of the Bloc Québécois. You know, because of the speech that I made in the House of Commons, that we are in favour of having your bill studied by the committee to try to improve it. Earlier, our Liberal colleague spoke of the Air Cubana situation, where several Quebeckers were stuck on board the aircraft on the tarmac at Ottawa International Airport. As you know, this situation was due to weather conditions. I wrote directly to the airline company, which in turn wrote directly to the airport authority and Transport Canada, and at this time, no one has accepted responsibility for this incident.
When you introduced your bill, it was supposed to solve this problem, according to what we had heard. Of course, clause 6 of the bill deals with the rights of passengers on the ground at an aerodrome, but it only targets air carriers. I must tell you that, in Air Cubana's case, I am far from convinced that it was the fault of the airline company. I would say that it was the airport authority that did not do its job. Your bill focuses on making airline companies accountable, but in Canada, as you know, airport authorities control air traffic, decide on what happens and assign space, and the bill contains no measures to make them accountable for all of this.
So I understand why air carriers complained that it is always up to them to pay for everything, when in Canada, many of the requirements and control measures are administered by a non-governmental organization. We must keep in mind that airport authorities, which are responsible for de-icing in airports and providing access rights, are overseen by boards of directors made up of people from the sector.
In this regard, I find that ADM in Montreal, is problematic. In the past, appointed directors were allowed to raise airport improvement fees as they saw fit; now they can borrow money as they see fit as well, but they have no sense of responsibility with regard to the problems that they sometimes cause. Does your bill deal with the accountability of airport authorities?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
With regard to the Cubana flight, that was actually detailed in a CBC program last night, but there's been considerable coverage of the Cubana situation going back two years now. That is a terrible example of people being confined on a runway for something like 15 hours. Yes, it does point to the fact that there is more than just one body involved here, but I would suggest that shouldn't stop us from passing an air passenger bill of rights mandating that the airlines have to let people off the airplanes within one hour, under penalty, because when a law like this becomes the law, then the airports and customs people have to adjust their practices.
In the United States right now we have similar types of legislation before both houses. What's happening concurrently with that is people like Jim Crites, who's head of the airport authority in Dallas-Forth Worth, are responding in their own way. He is making certain that his airport, and Atlanta, have purchased buses in order to get people off diverted flights in a very quick and efficient manner. They are now constructing buildings on the airport site to house people from diverted flights because it seems that diverted flights are increasing in number.
Just two weeks ago in Ottawa, Air Canada flight 32 was diverted from Beijing, China, to Toronto. Do you know that this plane was seven and a half hours late at the end of the day? It was diverted right here in Ottawa. When I checked into it, I found out they got here at eight o'clock at night, but those poor people were kept on that plane until at least eleven o'clock at night. This is after 15 hours or more from Beijing before they were actually let off that plane. Then they were taken into Toronto and they got there around two in the morning. These things are happening right now.
This is an Air Canada plane, the same airline that says they can let you off a plane within 90 minutes. They're clearly not doing it, because there's no penalty for them if they don't do it.
I agree with you, sir, it's a combination of responsibilities, but we have to proceed on the basis of this bill, and then perhaps a second bill for some other purpose.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
If the bill were in place and the passengers were diverted to the airport here in Ottawa, they would be receiving compensation for the length of time they were held on that airplane beyond one hour. So the theory would be that the airport and the airline would get the people off the plane within the hour so they wouldn't be paying compensation.
Let me just explain something. Maybe this will answer Mr. Laframboise's previous question.
In the insurance business we have a principle known as subrogation, and the bottom line here is that if a car driver drives into your fence at your house, your insurance company pays the claim. They're happy to do it. But a few months later, what they do is they subrogate against the guilty party. They find out who ran into your fence and they go after the insurance company that represents the car driver.
All I'm saying should have happened in Vancouver last year, as an example, is that the airline should have simply paid the bills, whatever was necessary, as WestJet did, to take care of those customers and to get them on their way, and then worry about who's going to pay afterward. An insurance company would simply subrogate against who they saw as the guilty party, which would be the airport that didn't clean the runway, right? When the airline was asked about that, this is what the airline council said: we don't want to hamper our great relations with the airport, so we're prepared to let the passengers suffer and let them try to find hotels in the middle of a snowstorm, because we don't want to hamper our good relationship with the airport that forgot to plow the right runway.
I'm saying that you take care of your passengers first and then you subrogate after that and chase the responsible parties. That's how it works in the insurance business and that's how it could work here too.
Mr. Dennis Bevington: Okay.
Mr. Jim Maloway: In this case, the passenger knew that it wasn't a weather situation, that it was a mechanical issue, and the airline coded it a certain way. It was an American carrier. The passenger took them to small claims court and he won. As a matter of fact, the judge dressed down the airline for hiding the true rules there.
You see, this is what airlines often do when they have two flights that are a couple of hours apart and only a few people on one flight: they'll cancel the first one and make you wait for an extra two hours so that they can fill up the second flight.
This is the kind of thing we're trying to catch here. We're not trying to make airplanes fly in bad weather or anything like that. We're trying to deal with operational issues where airlines take advantage of people every day. We want to make certain that this doesn't happen any more.
Let's take overbooking as a good example. I think most people would understand that issue very clearly. Let's say you buy a ticket to go to a hockey game, or a ticket to a rock concert, and when you show up you're told, “Sorry, but we sold your seat”. Can you imagine that happening? Well, that's what actually happens every day in the airline business. WestJet doesn't do that, but Air Canada does. It means that for the ticket they sold at a lower price a couple of months ago, they've now found somebody who will pay five times the price for it. They're happy to give you your $200 back because they just got a guy who's paying them $1,000.
We say that when you do things like that, you should be paying the customer compensation. Let me tell you that--
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and honourable members. We're very pleased to be here today to have a chance to comment on Bill .
It was my intention to allow my colleague Brigitte Hébert, director of operations of the NACC, to open with a 10-minute statement. She'll do that, but with your indulgence, I'd like to take the opportunity to add some facts to the debate that has begun here on a specific issue by the previous witness, and that would be concerning Air Canada flight 32 from Beijing to Toronto. Let me take just a few minutes to clear up what happened in that particular case. Then we'll move on to our comments and, of course, I'll be happy to take your questions.
Air Canada flight 32 was inbound to Toronto to land. Nav Canada, because of inclement weather conditions, shut down a runway on which it was supposed to land. It could not land on the other existing runways at Pearson, and as such circled in an attempt to at least wait for conditions to improve. They did not.
The captain therefore made the decision, in consideration of the safety of all aboard, of course, to head to his alternate, which was Ottawa, and to land. Ottawa of course accepted the flight.
The problem with Ottawa is that Air Canada doesn't operate 777s, the largest aircraft in their fleet, into and out of Ottawa. As such, they did not have on that night the ground equipment necessary to tow the aircraft in and out of the gate. So the aircraft had to make some special manoeuvres to sidle up to the gate, if you will. That took a little bit of time. They were able to get some air stairs and get the passengers out.
The passengers had to clear customs, as per Canadian law. Customs officials were not expecting that flight at that time of day. They don't usually handle flights that big with that number of people coming off at the same time. They had to scramble to get people to get those people cleared. So there were additional delays as a result of customs clearance procedures.
Once cleared, those passengers were offered coupons for meals and beverages. Air Canada was able to rebook at least 100 of those passengers onto earlier flights departing from Ottawa, on regularly scheduled flights from Ottawa to Toronto, including a group of 40 who were connecting on a flight to Buenos Aires. Air Canada held the flight leaving from Toronto to Buenos Aires in order to ensure that these passengers made their connection. The rest of the passengers were able to fly back on the 777. However, because of flight duty time restrictions, the captain and the co-pilot who brought the aircraft in from Beijing had to basically desist for the rest of the day, because they were past their duty time. In the interest of safety, they could no longer operate. Another crew was brought in. That plane eventually got back to Toronto.
Those are the facts of Air Canada flight 32. I just wanted to put them on the record.
I pass the floor now to my colleague Brigitte.
Thank you, honourable members of the committee, for the opportunity to appear today on private member's Bill , which, as you will hear, contains measures that are deeply troubling not only to air carriers, but also to consumers and Canadian communities.
We are here today on behalf of the National Airlines Council of Canada, which is an industry association comprised of Canada's four largest passenger airlines--Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat, and Jazz Air LP. Together the member carriers of the NACC directly employ 34,000 Canadians and directly serve 59 Canadian communities. We operate on average 1,800 flights a day, or 657,000 annually. We carry 126,000 passengers a day, roughly the entire population of Kelowna, B.C., or 46 million annually, about 1.36 times the current population of Canada.
This massive undertaking occurs each day, despite the best that Canada's climate can throw at us, and within the regulatory and security frameworks of the Government of Canada and the international jurisdictions we serve. Most importantly, it all takes place safely.
Inevitably, when dealing with that volume of passenger traffic there are going to be instances where passenger inconvenience, either beyond or within the control of the airline, is bound to occur. Airlines work hard to limit such instances, but like any other customer service industry, we are not perfect. Mistakes happen, and when they do, passengers should have rights, and they should have effective recourse if those rights are not respected.
NACC's member airlines understand this and have adopted into our tariffs the provisions of the flight rights program announced last year by Transport Canada. Let it be understood by members of this committee that this is a significant step. It is a formal, legal change to the contract between us, as carriers, and the customers we serve.
If we fail to live up to those conditions, the Canadian Transportation Agency has the power to investigate the circumstances of our failure and determine individually and according to circumstance the appropriate restitution or compensation due.
Furthermore, I would like to restate a commitment we made when Mr. Byrne's original motion on passenger rights was adopted by the House of Commons.
NACC urges parliamentarians, through this committee, to undertake a serious and detailed study of the public policy issues around passenger service in Canada—including an evaluation of airlines, Canada's airports, federal institutions and bodies and the regulatory regimes that affect international destinations served directly from Canada.
We want to find solutions. We want to move our passengers more efficiently. We welcome your interest, and in the context of a sincere effort to help our customers, we welcome your scrutiny.
That brings us to the reason we are here today, a discussion of private member's bill . Unfortunately, Bill C-310 is not going to help passengers in Canada. Bill C-310 is not about rights for passengers and it does not aspire to improving the travel experience or growing the travel options of Canadians.
There is not one single provision contained in Bill that would in any way serve to actually reduce instances of passenger inconvenience if the legislation were adopted.
Bill 's only aspiration is to penalize airlines in numerous instances for situations that are clearly far beyond the control of even the most conscientious carrier.
And let there be no mistake, the penalties proposed in Bill are very severe. If passed, this bill will hurt airlines operating in Canada, profoundly affect the cost structure of our businesses, force dramatic price increases on Canadian consumers and lead directly to service reductions, not only in Canada's busiest airports, but also in rural communities across Canada—specifically, airport communities in Atlantic Canada, northern Canada and in rural northern Quebec—that are dependant on reliable air service to provide a business and social link to the rest of the country.
Firstly, because Bill employs Canada's court system as a dispute-resolution mechanism, and because imprecise terms are sprinkled through virtually every major provision of the bill, no one can determine with any certainty at this point how Bill C-310 will actually be applied, and no one will know until a series of protracted and costly legal battles takes place.
Undoubtedly you will hear, or have already heard, that this language is based on European legislation—an assertion which is deeply troubling—when we know that the courts of EU member states are so confused by the wording and intent of the regulations on which Bill is based, that they have—after numerous protracted legal proceedings—referred questions to the Court of Justice of the European Communities. Essentially, they have thrown up their hands.
Surely these are not problems Canada is seeking to replicate in the creation of our own framework for passenger rights.
As was stated earlier, air carriers are, for whatever reason, the exclusive focus of this bill. Federal agencies or entities, such as Nav Canada, CATSA, CBSA, and Canada's airport authorities are not contemplated, and no consideration is given to any foreign entity or legal framework despite the complex and vital roles those organizations play in every trip Canadian passengers make.
By ignoring these obvious connections, Bill fails to address in any meaningful way the problems it identifies, instead leaving it to airlines to deal with circumstances beyond their control or face excessive penalties.
But more troubling is that Bill doesn't provide any allowance in key clauses for the most obvious and frequent culprit in airline disruptions. Bill C-310 makes airlines responsible for the weather.
For instance, in clause 5, in case of delay, airlines must provide a total of two phones calls, e-mails, faxes, or telex for each passenger, as well as meals and hotel accommodation if required. If the airline fails to comply with any of these obligations, it must pay each affected passenger $500. If a flight is delayed more than five hours, the airline must also offer to reimburse all airfares.
Clause 5 offers no exemption—even in the form of loose “extraordinary circumstances” language—from obligations if the delay is caused by a weather event or a safety concern. Clearly, an airline is not doing anything wrong if snowfall in Gander or Trois-Rivières is preventing the on-time departure of an aircraft. But the airline is liable.
There are clearly some serious problems with Bill , but its most egregious flaw is its failure to consider the safety of passengers and crews. In numerous instances Bill discourages and penalizes airlines for ensuring the safe operation of a plane, imposing substantial financial liability on carriers when flights are cancelled or delayed for safety reasons. It is counterintuitive to the promotion of aviation safety for the Government of Canada to implement a system of penalties to be imposed on airlines precisely because they will not operate in instances when public safety could be jeopardized.
Throughout the entirety of Canada's regulatory framework governing aviation, safety is the top priority. In adopting this legislation, members would in effect undo that principle. Passenger convenience is of greater concern than public safety in the drafting of private member's bill , and that cannot be acceptable.
These are our top-line concerns with Bill , but by no means is my presentation here today comprehensive in terms of the significant problems legislation like Bill C-310 would create for commercial aviation in Canada and the significant expense and inconvenience it would create for the public at large. I could quite literally go on for hours, but I'm sure members have questions.
Before I close, I would like to address the assertion that Bill can somehow be quickly amended to deal with its deficiencies. That is simply not practical.
The bill's reliance on punitive measures, its adoption of open-ended definitions, and its complete exclusion of all other aspects of the aviation supply chain mean it is fundamentally flawed. Bill requires complete redrafting of almost every clause contained in the legislation as proposed. Undertaking the work to do so would require a comprehensive review of the entirety of the aviation service and value chain to ensure that committee members can make the necessary amendments without unduly negatively affecting the state of Canadian aviation.
In summary, Bill does nothing to improve the passenger experience and has the potential for wreaking havoc on industry costs and the viability of air services. It needs to be withdrawn and replaced with a new initiative, which the NAC would wholly support and which would be based on a balanced, reasoned approach that considers the concerns expressed today and the totality of Canada's aviation system.
We hope that this cooperative approach is the path this committee chooses to follow, ultimately to the benefit of all Canadians. Bill C-310, unfortunately, benefits no one.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you for your question.
You give several examples. There was the NAV Canada decision concerning Air Canada flight 32. Furthermore, the work of the customs authorities has an impact on the passenger's experience. There is de-icing, which is very important. Snow removal from airport runways has a major impact on moving aircraft prior to takeoff. As you know, de-icing is basically a matter of air safety. One of our concerns about this bill is its potential impact on decisions made solely for reasons of air safety.
Imagine an aircraft commander who knows that it will take approximately an hour and a half to de-ice his Boeing 777. After 60 minutes, the time has come when it is up to us to decide whether to continue de-icing or not. Personally, I would trust the commander who has 30 years of experience and whose primary concern is the optimal operation of his aircraft and the safety of his crew and passengers.
After 61 minutes, someone might tell the commander that there are other considerations. The company could be severely penalized if the commander did not return immediately to the gate because one of the passengers had had enough. They could demand that the commander exit the takeoff line to go to a gate that is perhaps not even available. We know very well how it works when there is a major snowstorm. We have no idea how long it could take to get back into the lineup after loosing the aircraft's initial place. It could take a very long time. So this could needlessly add another three, four or even five hours to the delay. Ultimately, because of duty restrictions, the flight would have to be cancelled.
This puts us in a bad position on many levels. Why should the ability to make the final decision be taken away from the commander? If there is no unnecessary risk or danger to passenger safety, the aircraft could return to the gate. However, that has nothing to do with safety, because it is a matter of the smooth operation of a flight, which would have an impact on 300 other people, who may not necessarily want to get off the aircraft after 61 minutes. So why does this measure exist?
The Europeans have realized that this is absurd. They have never implemented this kind of legislation, even if some of their airports are the busiest in the world. For example, Heathrow airport got 5 cm of snow last year. It was total chaos for three days. I would like to point out that clause 3 of this bill would make us liable for that. In a situation similar to that of Heathrow, companies such as Air Canada or Air Transat would be forced to pay compensation for such a delay, even if it occurred in London, whereas British, German and Dutch airlines would not. Canada would be the only country in the world to be penalized. It makes absolutely no sense.
I truly believe that we must get together in order to better understand the system.
Thank you for the question.
As I tried to explain, we have filed the amendments to our tariffs, which are the contract of carriage with the passenger. It's not as the previous witness said: the tariff is fully enforceable when we don't respect our obligations under the tariff. Any consumer can go to the CTA--which, as you know, is quasi-judicial body--and complain that we have not respected it. The CTA has a wide range of options, including enforcement options, available to it to get us to respect our tariffs.
So it is legally or contractually binding in that respect, and it has been there, I believe, since the end of last April. I'm afraid I don't have the exact date of our filings. It has been in immediate effect as far as domestic tariffs are concerned. Unfortunately, there has been a little bit of a technical hiccup with respect to our international tariffs, because the CTA is reviewing some issues with respect to international conventions and how they apply in regard to some other similar issues.
I can tell you that as members of the NACC, we will be embarking on a very comprehensive communications campaign in the very near future to make sure people know this is there, because there's not much point to having these things here in some sort of document that nobody's ever heard of or understands. If you don't know it's there, then you can't use it. We want people to know it's there, and we want people to use their rights as we have proposed, because we think that's a reasonable way to go. And if we can't live up to those rights, then obviously the CTA should say, no, you have an obligation to do that.
These are the individual airlines, as you will understand, which the NACC is trying to coordinate, but it is each airline's call as to how they want people to go onto their websites and be able to access all of their customer service information and all of that. I hope very much that you'll be able to see that in the very near future. We are working on it with our communication subcommittee.
Thank you to our witnesses.
I note from your testimony before us that it seems your preoccupation is with the liabilities that you suggest are beyond your control, supply chain issues. You note that under the current provisions within Bill it's a bonanza for lawyers.
Let me ask you this. You seem to have a lot of respect for the Canadian Transportation Agency. It seems to be working out okay for you. It's a quasi-judicial body, with a vested interest and a competence in investigating and enforcing matters pertaining to commercial transportation issues.
Let me give you a suggestion and see how you respond. To prevent matters that are not in your control from being deemed your liability, how about actually having the Canadian Transportation Agency, a quasi-judicial body with competence in monitoring regulation pertaining to the commercial aviation industry, actually determining whether or not, on the balance of probabilities, it is indeed a commercial airline liability that created a particular delay or other inconvenience or a matter beyond their control?
One of the things suggested to us is that.... We're frequent travellers, but it's not about us, it's about our constituents, it's about the travelling public that we hear from. We hear that often airlines will provide a mitigating circumstance to a failure to provide a customer service on an issue out of their control. At certain times, evidence is presented that suggests that maybe it was indeed in the airline's control, that it was a commercial decision.
Why not have the Canadian Transportation Agency be granted the authority to investigate and enforce these matters? Would you agree with that?
That's good transparency, in my opinion.