Wings Magazine

Questions still being asked over Pearson shutdown

Jan. 14, 2014, Toronto - Toronto’s airport authority is still short on details of its planned review of last week’s Pearson airport shutdown, as calls mount for increased accountability of the agency that runs Canada’s busiest airport.

January 14, 2014  By The Toronto Star

Pearson grappled with further delays this weekend when a software glitch slowed check-ins. The incident capped off a week that saw thousands of travellers stranded after North American landings were banned for more than eight hours Tuesday due to extreme cold.


The crisis sparked
questions about oversight and transparency at the Greater Toronto
Airports Authority, a private, not-for-profit entity that operates
Pearson through a ground lease with the federal government.



“Ultimately, more
transparency means more accountability,” said NDP transportation critic
Olivia Chow. “There should always be more transparency because they pay a
lot of money to the federal government.”

GTAA chief executive officer Howard Eng has also faced criticism for refusing to speak to the public for the first two days of the crisis while he was in Edmonton on a vague “business trip.” For the fifth day Monday, a spokesman refused to provide his itinerary.


Eng, who made $712,138 in 2012 including incentives, broke his silence last Thursday,
saying he had been managing the crisis over the phone from Edmonton. He
has promised to make public the GTAA’s part of its review of the
shutdown, reversing the authority’s earlier plans to keep it secret.


Spokesman Scott
Armstrong said Monday the GTAA is still looking at how to conduct the
review, including what will be covered and who will be involved. He said
he hopes to share details on timing shortly.


The review is expected
to include closed-door meetings between the authority, airlines and
companies that employ ground handlers. Liberal transportation critic
David McGuinty called on the authority to make these meetings open to
the public.


“I don’t see any
reason why this couldn’t be held in an open fashion,” he said. “Most
people in Toronto think the GTAA belongs to them — not in a literal
sense, but in a figurative sense. It’s their airport. . . . I think
they’ll want to see it improved as well.”


Airports in Canada
were commercialized in the 1980s with the hopes of making them more
competitive. Authorities like the GTAA assumed responsibility for
financial management and operations of airports by virtue of a long-term
ground lease with Transport Canada.


This stands in
contrast with some airports in the U.S., which are managed by local port
authorities. The U.S. has also moved toward new consumer protection
laws, including hefty fines for extended tarmac delays that have cut the number of such delays drastically.


Spokeswoman Roxane
Marchand said Transport Canada has a well-defined set of safety and
security regulations, and conducts regular inspections. In this case,
the ministry will examine the airport authority’s findings after it
conducts its review and respond as required, she said.


airport authority is governed by a 15-member board. Two members are
appointed by the federal government and one member — the chair — is
appointed by the province. The rest are appointed by the board itself.


The board will be
responsible for disciplining Eng, should it choose to do so. The Star
attempted to reach several board members, including chair Vijay Kanwar,
over the last few days, but phone calls and emails were not returned.


some municipal leaders are calling for changes to the board’s
appointment process. The five regions in the Greater Toronto Area have
“representatives” on the board, but they do not have the power to
appoint those members. The regions put forward three nominations and the
board may pick one.


But the board also has
the power to reject the nominations and appoint a representative of its
choice — a process that must change, said Halton chair Gary Carr.


“Toronto is a
world-class city, but during this whole incident, our airport authority
was not world-class,” he said. “We’d like to see some of these things
changed so we can make sure we learn from this and it never happens


He said Halton’s GTAA
representative does make a presentation at a regional council meeting
every year. But in this case, Eng has agreed to Carr’s request that he
speak at a public meeting once the review has been published.


received a phone call from Eng on Monday, as did Durham chair Roger
Anderson and Peel chair Emil Kolb. For his part, Anderson agreed the
process should be changed so the board does not have the power to reject


Kolb, on the other
hand, said he did not have a problem with the current process and he
meets with his board representative three times a year.


“We have been happy with our appointees, they’ve served well,” he said. “We’ve had a very positive working relationship.”


The GTAA publishes its annual reports, financial data, strategic plan and statistics on its website.
But as a private entity, it is not included under federal
access-to-information legislation, meaning the public cannot request
documents the authority chooses to keep secret.


Air Canada spokesman
Peter Fitzpatrick said Monday morning the airline expected to take part
in an upcoming review — as it does with any irregular operation — but
had no further information at that time.


Later that afternoon,
WestJet spokesman Robert Palmer confirmed the airline had received an
invitation from the GTAA to participate in the review. He was unable to
say whether WestJet would make its part of the review public.


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