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AC defends GTAA’s decision to shut down operations

Jan. 17, 2014, Toronto - Air Canada is defending a disruptive shutdown last week at Toronto’s Pearson Airport due to a deep-freeze that swept much of the continent.


January 17, 2014
By The Canadian Press

Chief financial officer Michael Rousseau told an analyst conference
Thursday that the airline stopped flights into Canada’s busiest airport
because the ground was like a skating rink caused by flash freezing as
temperatures quickly dropped well below zero following a rain storm.

 

It also supported a rare “ground stop” that was subsequently issued
by Pearson’s operator, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority.

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With flights backed up, Rousseau said Air Canada decided to stop
flying into Toronto to avoid leaving passengers stranded on the tarmac
for four or five hours.

“GTAA followed us right afterwards. “That was the right decision from our perspective,” he said.

 

Rousseau apologized for the inconvenience to customers, noting that
operations had been affected from Dec. 19 until just a couple of days
ago because of the freeze and a prior ice storm.

 

“We think we actually operated well through the situation. When your major hub Toronto is shut down like it was early last week. … it is a very difficult situation.”

 

A review of that decision is underway, but Rousseau said the big
question is why there was so much ice on the tarmac that a typical
20-minute airplane towing took 90 minutes.

 

WestJet Airlines also said it supports the GTAA’s “unprecedented” decision, which has drawn scrutiny by the federal government.

 

The decision to halt all North American flights for more than eight
hours after temperatures plummeted to -40C with the wind chill stranded
thousands of passengers.

 

WestJet CFO Vito Culmone told the AltaCorp Capital conference that
safety is the top priority and the Calgary-based airline vowed to work
with other airlines and the airport operator on improvements.

 

On Wednesday, WestJet issued a news release saying it supports the review by an ad hoc committee of the GTAA board of directors.

 

Both carriers flew in additional planes to ease the backlog caused by
the delays, which WestJet says affected some 22,000 of its passengers
travelling to or from the airport.

 

Air Canada added roughly 5,000 more seats in the following days,
while WestJet chartered a Boeing 747 jumbo jet and another plane to
transport nearly 500 WestJet customers and 1,000 bags to Calgary.

 

The airport chairman apologized Wednesday for the disruptions.

 

Vijay Kanwar said the ground stop was instituted for the safety of
employees, passengers and the public and was carefully considered and
reviewed with the GTAA’s partners.