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45 ° 42′ North: Aviation has changed humanity

Peter Pigott interviewed the Honourable John Baird, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities at his Parliamentary office on Dec. 11, 2009. Here is part of their conversation.

January 19, 2010  By Peter Pigott

Peter Pigott interviewed the Honourable John Baird, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities at his Parliamentary office on Dec. 11, 2009. Here is part of their conversation.

The Hon. John Baird flies in the CF-18 at Cold Lake; below, members of the 410 Squadron.


Pigott: John, one of your predecessors was the great C.D. Howe, Canada’s first Minister of Transport. He loved flying and risked his life in the famous “Dawn to Dusk Flight” in 1937. How do you feel about flying? Are you a good air traveller?

Baird: Oh, I love flying – doesn’t bother me at all. I once skydived – loved it.


Pigott: As the Centenary of Flight in Canada ends, what are your thoughts on it?

Baird: It’s been a whole year–long celebration. When you think about how much the world has changed, the whole definition of community – the world is a smaller place because of aviation – it has changed humanity. For a country like Canada, it has made it a lot smaller just politically. During the last election campaign a year ago, I was able to fly out and campaign for Gary Lunn, my friend from Vancouver Island – be there and back in a day – something that would have been unthinkable, unimaginable 100 years ago. In many respects, it’s hard to believe – my grandfather was born before the aircraft was invented. It’s quite remarkable how much can change in two generations.

Peter, actually, one of the things I did this summer was a life–long dream. It was to fly in a CF–18 at Cold Lake. Despite going Mach 7, I was able to return no lesser the worse for wear – one of the few that day that didn’t need “the bag.” We went to Mach 7, did twirls and I even got to take the controls for two minutes – it was remarkable. We actually did six loops in a row.

A big chunk of the time at Cold Lake was to be trained on safety procedures. You have to be fitted for G–pants and then there were all the contingencies for the one in a million times that you might have to eject. I came back with such an amazing appreciation for the work that the Air Force does – for 410 Squadron. You can see that these are some of the best trained people in the country.

Pigott: Sounds great, but what about commercial aviation in Canada these days? Can you comment on it?


Baird: It’s been a tough year – the economy has been very tough. We had to obviously step in with Air Canada. We were able to get collateral so it was good for the travelling public and also good for the taxpayer because we secured the loan with assets. Sure it’s been tough for the air carriers but you can see the excitement with Bob Deluce and Porter – that’s probably the craziest business to get into. He‘s so passionate about starting and operating an airline – you see the excitement and energy that he and his entire team have in running Porter.

Pigott: I understand that next week Canada will be finalizing the Canada–EU “Blue Skies” Agreement. What’s that about?

Baird: We negotiated it last year but had to go through their (EU) ratification process. It’s now all been ratified – just need the signatures which will happen the week of December 14th. This agreement, which is consistent with our “Blue Sky” policy and current Canadian legislation, allows the development of new markets, new services and greater competition. It includes unrestricted direct air services between Canada and EU Member States; flexible pricing arrangements; and improved flexibility for cargo. It’s really exciting and we are committed to opening up more skies – the EU deal will be just incredible for increasing competition which will be great for Canada and also great for the travelling public.

Pigott: What about the aviation industry in Canada – Bombardier for example?

Baird: I did not have full appreciation for what a global leader, a global champion, Bombardier is until I went to China this summer and saw how far their tentacles reach. Their C–Series is very exciting – it’s huge for China – and Ethiopia is now buying them. In China, Bombardier is the face of Canada – the moment you arrive at the airport you get on a Bombardier train. While their international market is down, their domestic market for commuter jets is way up – when you have 39 cities with more than five million people in each…it’s a great opportunity there for Canada.

Pigott: What is the future for regional airports like Carp, Buttonville and St. Hubert in Montreal – local resources that have potential?

Baird: We’re a big supporter of regional airports, but there’s never enough money to meet their demand. Last week FedDev’s (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario) first development grant was for London airport.

Peter Pigott is a Wings writer and columnist.


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