Wings Magazine

News
WestJet looks to charter planes to clear backlog

Jan. 10, 2014, Toronto - The deep freeze that has set in across much of North America is wreaking havoc for airlines trying to move passengers and trucking companies trying to move goods.


January 10, 2014
By The Toronto Star

Honda Canada idled
assembly lines at its two plants in Alliston, Ont., late Monday due to
the cold weather and a parts shortage, but it expected to resume
operations Wednesday.

 

Airline passengers,
desperate to get home from vacations down south or from holiday
gatherings, faced long waits at Pearson airport, Canada’s busiest hub,
on Tuesday as operations were essentially shut down in the morning amid
icy conditions, gusty winds and bone-chilling temperatures.

Advertisement

 

Ground stops — halting
takeoffs and landings — do occur, especially during thunderstorms if
there’s a risk of lightning, but this was believed to be the first time
Pearson has been issued one due to extreme cold.

WestJet Airlines
estimated that 7,500 passengers were stranded at Pearson airport due to
nearly 100 cancelled flights on Monday and Tuesday — and officials
expected the numbers to grow.

 

WestJet spokesman
Robert Palmer said it would likely take at least another day or so to
get all the stranded passengers to their destinations, given the
increasing backlog along with the continuing cold weather forecast.

 

It is taking the unusual step of trying to charter planes from elsewhere to move passengers.

 

“We are exploring the
opportunity to charter aircraft,” Palmer said. “That’s how serious this
is, to rent planes and pilots to get people where they need to be as
quickly and safely as possible.

 

“At this point, we don’t know if we can. We are looking at it as an option,” Palmer said.

 

“You can’t pick up the phone and order up a plane and have it delivered to you like a pizza in 45 minutes,” he said.

 

Air Canada and Porter
Airlines were also scrambling to move passengers during this busy travel
period, which has seen troubles compounded by snowstorms in the United
States.

 

Porter spokesman Brad
Cicero said the airline cancelled nearly 50 flights on Tuesday, across
its network that usually handles more than 200 flights.

 

“Some cancellations will have some effect on tomorrow’s schedule,” said Cicero. “We’ll make adjustments as needed.”

 

U.S. carrier JetBlue
shut down its operations in airports in the northeast on Monday and
slowly began to restart their flight network on Tuesday, in hopes of
having planes and crews in the right locations. Southwest Airlines did
the same at its Chicago operations.

 

Air Canada spokesman
Peter Fitzpatrick said the cold weather made it more challenging to do
routine tasks such as towing planes, unloading luggage and moving
baggage carts.

 

“It was a very
difficult morning, no doubt, because of the ice,” said Fitzpatrick,
noting passengers should not rush to the airport to rebook flights,
adding lines are very long at Pearson.

 

“We will be impacted into Wednesday for sure. There will be more cancellations.”

 

He advises passengers
to use the online self-service rebooking tool, and for passengers to
check frequently, because seats could become available as others opt to
cancel travel or extra flights are added.

 

Fitzpatrick cited an
example of Sunday night, when 12 extra planes were diverted to Toronto
from Ottawa and Montreal due to freezing rain at those airports.

 

The next day, Air
Canada used a Boeing 777 jet — which is usually used on long-haul
international routes — to ferry three times as many people as usual to
Montreal on one flight.

 

For trucking
companies, the bad weather is disrupting deliveries across Canada and
the United States — including parts needed for manufacturing and
consumer goods getting to retailers.

 

“The supply chain has
been disrupted in getting parts, whatever business you are in,” said
David Bradley, president of the Ontario Trucking Association.

 

The cold is having a
serious impact on the bottom line, with engines seizing up and delayed
deliveries. Drivers need to burn more fuel in this extreme weather and
diesel prices are about 10 cents a litre higher than a year ago.

 

“These sorts of cold
snaps have a significant economic impact,” Bradley said. “When you get
into the –20 and –30 temperature range, fuel economy can be reduced by
15 to 25 per cent.”

 

For an individual
owner-operator, it can also affect the amount of fuel needed to stay
warm in the cab if there’s no auxiliary power unit.

 

“What concerns people
is we are only 18 days into winter at this point. If this is what it’s
going to be like all winter, certainly it will be much more difficult
and much more costly,” Bradley said.

 

“There are only so many things we can control and weather is not one of them.”