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House of Commons transport committee will investigate airport delays

OTTAWA — The House of Commons transport committee is launching an investigation into airport delays and flight cancellations. The committee met virtually on Monday and voted unanimously to move forward with a study into the delays.
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People line up before entering the security at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Friday, August 5, 2022. The House of Commons transport committee is holding an emergency meeting today to talk about whether to go ahead with an investigation into airport delays and flight cancellations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

OTTAWA — The House of Commons transport committee is launching an investigation into airport delays and flight cancellations.

The committee met virtually on Monday and voted unanimously to move forward with a study into the delays.

The committee will invite Transport Minister Omar Alghabra to testify and will hold its first hearing by the end of next week. 

Airlines and airports have been grappling with a surge in travel this summer, compounded by staffing shortages affecting both carriers and federal agencies.

That's led to widespread flight cancellations, baggage delays and lengthy lineups, with the Greater Toronto Area's Pearson International Airport the hardest hit by these issues.

John Gradek, head of McGill University's aviation management program, said airlines aggressively ramped up their flight schedules as travel picked up again but have not been mindful of their own labour shortages.

Airlines laid off workers at the start of the pandemic and have been facing challenges with hiring enough workers back into the industry. 

"The airlines … launched a whole series of flights and schedules that were very aggressive to basically capture as much of this traffic as they possibly could and without really understanding what the impact was going to be on the ability of the infrastructure and the aviation ecosystems to handle all this traffic," Gradek said. 

Gradek said airports are also responsible for the delays because they have not been limiting the number of flights to match their capacities. Part of the problem, he said, is they don't have the authority to order airlines to reduce flight volumes. 

Last week, the head of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority said delays at Canada's busiest travel hub are declining, but stopped short of making specific commitments or timelines to improve travel times going forward.

Other airports around the world have ordered airlines to cut back on flights. The United Kingdom’s Heathrow Airport ordered airlines to stop selling tickets for summer flights as it imposed a cap on the number of passengers per day.

"Airlines don't want to reduce the schedules, because if you reduce the schedules, you reduce your market share," Gradek said. 

He said he'll be paying close attention to any proposed solutions that come out of the transport committee to ensure the next time the country faces a crisis, there are limited airport disruptions.

Amicable efforts to solve the problem aren’t working, so “we need some authority,” he said.

Air Canada announced in June that it would cut more than 15 per cent of its schedule in July and August, more than 9,500 flights, due to the strained air transport system. Meanwhile, WestJet said it “proactively” removed flights from its Pearson schedule, anticipating summer travel snarls.

Transport Canada said the government and the aviation industry are working together to improve travel, including through meeting with stakeholders, boosting staff levels and improving the ArriveCan app.

Air Canada is also facing heat for refusing compensation claims to passengers whose flight cancellations or delays are caused by staff shortages resulting from the pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2022.

Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press

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