Ottawa aims to shed more light on how well airports are working as travel ramps up
June 21, 2023 By Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press
The federal government moved this week to bolster accountability at airports, introducing new legislation that would compel them and other operators to cough up more information on their performance.
Tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday, the bill paves the way for new rules on service standards, with airports and an array of industry players required to publish data that can be compared against those benchmarks.
The standards could track outcomes ranging from security screening wait times to how long it takes luggage to reach the carousel. They would apply to parties including Canada’s air transport security agency, its air navigation service, airlines and baggage handling firms.
“As we’ve seen over the last few years, a disruption in one part of the system can have wide effects across the entire network,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said at a news conference in Ottawa.
“The idea is that once you set a service standard, then airports will be accountable to airlines, airlines will be accountable to airports, Nav Canada will be accountable to airports … to airlines,” Alghabra said, adding that “there are consequences” for those that fail to meet the bar.
However, it is not clear from the bill whether service standard violations would be penalized.
“There’s lots of stuff about data sharing but not much about what or who would be taking action and in what conditions would action be taken,” said John Gradek, a lecturer at McGill University’s aviation management program.
“There may be penalties, but even those powers are left to the government to create” — rather than being set out in the legislation from the start — said Air Passenger Rights president Gabor Lukacs.
Arriving just before the House rises for the summer — all but assuring it won’t pass until fall at the earliest — the legislation also comes as airline activity ramps up for the summer after a year of airport chaos and flight delays during busy travel seasons.
Last month, the National Airlines Council released a report calling on Ottawa to implement “shared accountability” in aviation, with the goal of smoother travel — and across-the-board responsibility for flight disruptions.
The proposals landed precisely three weeks after the House tabled legislation to overhaul passenger rights. Post-pandemic travel turmoil last summer and over the winter holidays prompted the Liberal government to lay out sweeping changes to Canada’s passenger rights charter in an effort to tighten compensation loopholes and toughen penalties.
The airline council recommendations include strikingly similar language to that of Tuesday’s legislation. Both call for “service standards” for operators in the sector, which range from airports to Nav Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency.
“They may have internal key performance indicators … but there’s no accountability for them. There’s certainly no public reporting on them,” council CEO Jeff Morrison said in a phone interview on May 11.
Alghabra insisted the summer is shaping up to be a smoother ride than a year ago.
“I feel that the system is much more prepared. However, I am keeping an eye on their performance,” he told reporters.
Travel hiccups still remain, however.
At Toronto’s Pearson airport, some 1,248 flights by Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge and Jazz Aviation, which provides regional service for the country’s biggest airline, were delayed or cancelled on Thursday through Sunday — well over half of the carriers’ trips — according to tracking firm FlightAware. Comparable figures emerged from Montreal’s Trudeau airport.
“As with any system, when it is operating at full capacity it may slow processes down and take longer to recover when issues arise — for example, when thunderstorms halt our operation, as we saw over the recent weekend in the U.S. northeast,” Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email.
The airline said its staff headcount is higher than in the summer of 2019, despite currently operating at 90 per cent of pre-pandemic flight capacity.
Canadian Airports Council president Monette Pasher said in a statement she backs the new bill, which plays into an effort to gear up for the seasonal travel rush: “This is all part of an intense summer readiness push across the ecosystem.”
Not all groups were so supportive. Unifor president Lana Payne, whose union represents some 16,000 workers in Canadian aviation, said working conditions marked “a huge piece of the puzzle.”
The union demanded the government require airport operators to pay a living wage “instead of the bare minimum” and to end “the worst effects of contract flipping” — changing a service provider every few years to ensure lower costs.
“If the quality of jobs in the sector continues to erode, the service standard will never be met,” said Leslie Dias, Unifor’s director of airlines.
Known as Bill C-52, the legislation also sketches out a plan to consult the public on airspace changes affecting noise near airports, to require larger airport authorities to report on pollution reduction plans and to compel service providers to submit accessibility data to the government. It authorizes a process to deal with accessibility complaints from persons living with a disability.
The bill further aims to enhance transparency on how a port sets its fees by mandating port authorities “to follow certain principles when establishing or changing” them. It also spells out a process to challenge newly set fees via the country’s transport regulator.
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