At the gate: Making safety the top priority

March 03, 2014
Written by Brian Dunn
The appointment of Lisa Raitt as minister of transport last July was a plus for the aviation industry, according to Harvey Friesen, president of Bearskin Airlines and past chairman of the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC).

‘‘Our industry needs a government that appreciates the market conditions we operate in.’’ Photo: MIke Dorion

“We view her experience in aviation and her influence in Parliament as a major plus for our industry. We are hoping that her influence in cabinet will sway some of her colleagues to finally recognize the importance of aviation as a socio-economic enabler, not just a cash cow for the government,” Friesen said at ATAC’s 79th annual general meeting and tradeshow in Montreal in the fall. “With the appointment of Lisa Raitt as minister of transport, the department should see a level of prominence it has not enjoyed for many years.”

Many key issues remain to be tackled by ATAC heading into the new year, the most pressing one being the need to keep asking Ottawa to revise its overall approach towards the aviation industry and give it the consideration it deserves, since the industry can no longer be the cash cow for government revenues, said Friesen.

“How could Canada cope socially and economically without a strong aviation industry? How could the outlying regions of the country survive? How would Canada fare in the global market? Our industry needs a government that appreciates the market conditions we operate in and recognizes the vital socio-economic enabling role aviation plays in Canada. We are counting on Minister Raitt to be our champion in cabinet.”

From a policy standpoint, ATAC would like regulations to reflect the complexity and variety of air operations in Canada and not promote policies of “one-size-fits-all.” In addition, the association has tackled issues concerning operations, safety, finances and operating costs, fees, security, facilitation, airports, international development, government action and level of service.

Minister Raitt acknowledged in her luncheon address that the air transportation industry is a major economic development tool and said it was her job to incorporate that belief in the government’s agenda. The industry is responsible for 100,000 jobs and contributes $6 billion annually to Canada’s GDP and “the more successful you are, the more successful the country is,” she said.

But in order for consumers to have faith in the system, they have to believe that its health and safety is the government’s top priority. Consumers need to know a strong air sector can play a role, said Raitt.

Under the auspices of creating a strong air sector, Porter Airlines president and CEO Robert Deluce also took to the podium at the luncheon to pitch his business plan. He reminded his audience that fares drop by up to 60 per cent whenever Porter enters a new market, is the third-largest scheduled carrier in Canada, and enjoys the highest on-time performance of any scheduled Canadian airline. Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, Porter’s key hub, is the ninth busiest airport in Canada by passenger volume.

“Passengers are returning to the air in many cities now that there is an affordable option,” Deluce said. “This amounts to hundreds of thousands of more people a year across multiple markets.”

Last April, Porter announced its new growth plans and a $2.3-billion-dollar conditional purchase agreement for up to 30 Bombardier CS100s and six additional Bombardier Q400s. Delivery of the CS100s is planned to start in January 2016. The CS100 deliveries will depend on a number of conditions being met, including the approval of jet service at Billy Bishop and the approval to extend the runway at both ends. Growth plans include new service to Calgary, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Orlando, Miami and the Caribbean.

“I believe that benefits for travellers will also contribute to less Canadians going across the border to use U.S. airports, such as Buffalo and Niagara,” the Porter founder said. And while there is a lot of opposition to Deluce’s expansion plan, he’s confident he’ll win out, noting he has the majority of city councillors on his side. “Over 28,000 people have already signed up to show support, and more than 10,000 have contacted city hall to directly express their support,” he says.

A recent economic impact study commissioned by the Port Authority and endorsed by the Toronto Board of Trade revealed Billy Bishop contributes $2 billion annually to the city’s economy, Deluce pointed out. The airport is also helping in the redevelopment of Toronto’s waterfront, he added. But there is still a lot of work ahead, Deluce concluded.

“We don’t think for a moment that the outcome of our requested amendments is a foregone conclusion. We do believe passionately that we are deserving of support from the City of Toronto, the federal government and the Toronto Port Authority and we look forward to a continuing conversation.”

Striving to create a stronger air transport environment for Canadians from coast to coast. It’s a goal shared by those driving the industry and the association that works so diligently to protect it.

Brian Dunn is a Wings writer and columnist.

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