Canada Air Transat, Ottawa airport spat heats up, as federal hearings announced

16:22  10 august  2017
16:22  10 august  2017 Source:   Ottawa Citizen

Air Transat files response in stranded Ottawa airplane saga

  Air Transat files response in stranded Ottawa airplane saga Air Transat has replied to allegations that it breached its responsibilities by preventing passengers from getting off two planes stuck on the Ottawa airport's runway for hours — but for now, the nature of that response remains a secret. The airline had until 5 p.m. ET today to respond to the Canadian Transportation Agency, which launched an inquiry this week into the July 31 debacle at Ottawa's Macdonald-Cartier International Airport.

It came Wednesday, as the Canadian Transportation Agency announced it will be holding a public hearing at the end of this month in an How are they going to come to Ottawa to be witnesses? The airport will lawyer up , Air Transat will lawyer up . But what about the interests of the passengers?

Air Transat , Ottawa airport spat heats up , as federal hearings announced . Air Transat is laying blame on “numerous other parties” — including the Ottawa airport Sign Up / Sign In. With your existing account from: {* loginWidget *}.

Air Transat passengers complained after they were stuck on the tarmac for up to six hours on July 31. © Hand-out, Transat A.T. Inc. Air Transat passengers complained after they were stuck on the tarmac for up to six hours on July 31.

Air Transat is laying blame on “numerous other parties” — including the Ottawa airport — for an incident last week that left two flights full of passengers stranded on the tarmac for hours.

It’s the latest blame tossing between the airline and the airport following the misadventure in the capital, which has become a flashpoint in the debate over passengers’ rights. 

It came Wednesday, as the Canadian Transportation Agency announced it will be holding a public hearing at the end of this month in an attempt to sort out the matter, which has gained national attention.

Air Transat blames 'factors beyond our control' for stranded Ottawa passenger saga

  Air Transat blames 'factors beyond our control' for stranded Ottawa passenger saga Air Transat blames 'factors beyond our control' for stranded Ottawa passenger sagaAir Transat is blaming "a confluence of factors beyond our control" for the lengthy delay of international Flights 157 and 507, both of which were diverted to the Macdonald-Cartier International Airport on July 31 due to bad weather in Montreal.

Air Transat flights arrive at and depart from main airports in our destinations. Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport . Main Terminal. Ottawa , Ontario, Canada (YOW). Ottawa MacDonald-Cartier International Airport .

Providing the best possible customer experience is a priority for the Ottawa International Airport Authority, and we are disappointed that Air Transat has not been forthcoming, transparent or accountable with information concerning their diverted flights.

Two Air Transat flights, one from Rome and the other from Brussels, were among 20 flights diverted to the Ottawa MacDonald-Cartier airport on July 31 because of severe weather.

Passengers were stranded aboard the parked planes for hours. Finally, around 9 p.m., several frustrated passengers on the Brussels flight called 911.  

In a sharply worded letter to the Canadian Transportation Agency dated Aug. 4, made public for the first time Wednesday, the president of Air Transat says “numerous other parties” were at fault for the delays. 

The letter, signed by Jean-François Lemay, said the agency needs to seek answers how the airport and its service providers acted. Lemay suggested the diverted flights were redirected from the taxiway to a remote northern section of the airport and that other carriers got priority when it came to refueling.

'You can't do this to us': Fuming passengers stuck on planes for hours call 911

  'You can't do this to us': Fuming passengers stuck on planes for hours call 911 Passengers on two Air Transat flights were stuck on planes at the Ottawa airport for hours on Monday after being diverted due to stormy weather, and at least two of them called 911. Air Transat flight 157 from Brussels was scheduled to arrive in Montreal at 3:15 p.m. ET Monday, but was diverted to Ottawa after circling east of Montreal due to thunderstorms.The flight landed at the Ottawa airport just after 5 p.m. ET, after more than eight hours of flying time.It then sat on the tarmac for six hours, and passengers weren't allowed to get off. Laura Mah, who was on board, spoke to CBC News as they waited.

Air Transat . Ottawa . Air Transat Flight TS157 connects Ottawa , Canada to Montreal, Canada, taking off from Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport YOW and landing at Montreal Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport YUL.

Air Transat . Ottawa . Air Transat Flight TS711 connects Ottawa , Canada to Montreal, Canada, taking off from Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport YOW and landing at Montreal Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport YUL.

“Indeed it should be noted that aircraft of all other airlines were allowed to remain on the taxiway in question and were all refueled before Air Transat’s flights,” said Lemay in the letter, adding that standard operating first-come-first-served operating practices for fueling were not followed. The crews of both aircraft requested refueling while they were waiting on the runway, but were told this was not possible, he said.

“Shortly after, our personnel witnessed a diverted Air Canada wide-body aircraft parked on the runway behind them being refueled.” The letter also noted that other airlines, including Air Canada/Rouge, WestJet, Air France, Emirates and KLM were able to refuel and depart.

In a statement released Wednesday in response, the Ottawa Airport Authority said third-party ground handling firms manage aircraft affairs at airports, including aircraft marshaling, baggage handling and check-in/gate services, except in cases where the airlines’ own employees handle these tasks. The airport authority offered its full support and assistance to Air Transat via the designated ground handler, as it did with all airlines that were affected that evening, the statement said.

How 911 dispatch responded to Air Transat passengers at Ottawa's airport

  How 911 dispatch responded to Air Transat passengers at Ottawa's airport Audio from paramedic dispatchers is shedding light on how emergency crews handled 911 calls from passengers stranded on the Ottawa airport's tarmac Monday, after their flights were diverted from Montreal due to bad weather. The recording, provided by Broadcastify, covers about 25 minutes, from the paramedic call centre first dispatching crews to the Ottawa International Airport, to a final report back from one of the paramedics who went to the scene.

Air Transat Flight TS869 connects Punta Cana, Dominican Republic to Ottawa , Canada, taking off from Punta Cana International Airport PUJ and landing at Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport YOW.

Air Transat . Ottawa . Air Transat Flight TS864 connects Ottawa , Canada to Cancun, Mexico, taking off from Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport YOW and landing at Cancun International Airport CUN.

“Many options were available to the airline at all times while the aircraft were on the apron, had they wished to deplane. The airport had buses on standby on the airfield to shuttle passengers to the terminal and there were gates available for deplaning. Our staff was on the ground to spread these messages and ensure all parties involved were aware of the facilities and assistance available,” said the airport authority.

As a seasonal charter service provider from Ottawa, Air Transat would have an arrangement with a ground handling firm, and would be responsible for determining the level of service provided by their contractor, said the airport authority. 

“This arrangement would extend to arranging refueling service and providing all airside equipment necessary to fulfill contractual obligations, as determined in the contract. The contractual relationship between the ground handler and the airline rests between both parties and not with the airport authority. The role of the airport authority is to ensure that ground handlers operate in a safe and secure manner.” 

Some flights delayed at Pearson Airport due to technical problems at Terminal 3

  Some flights delayed at Pearson Airport due to technical problems at Terminal 3 Some flights delayed at Pearson Airport due to technical problems at Terminal 3“Intermittent technical issues with Terminal 3 baggage are ongoing this morning, and will affect some departing flights,” the airport tweeted Wednesday morning.

Air Transat Flight TS861 connects Punta Cana, Dominican Republic to Ottawa , Canada, taking off from Punta Cana International Airport PUJ and landing at Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport YOW.

Air Transat Flight TS865 connects Cancun, Mexico to Ottawa , Canada, taking off from Cancun International Airport CUN and landing at Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport YOW.

Airlines set the standard of service, including during irregular air operations such as occurred on July 31, the airport authority said. 

“The airport does not determine the priority of refueling activity. This is determined by the airlines who request refueling through their ground handlers. We have been advised that refueling is typically done on a first-come-first-served basis unless special circumstances dictate that an aircraft receive priority. Again, this is done without airport involvement and is typically arranged by the airline directly or through its ground handler. At no time did the Air Transat crew or its ground handler request fueling assistance or a gate from the Airport Authority.”

The Air Transat letter said flight crews were in regular communication with local authorized fuelers, but were not informed about how long the entire refueling operation would take, which did not allow an informed decision about how to managed the situation.

There was a “creeping delay” even after urgent requests for refueling, it said. The Air Transat crews were led to believe that their aircraft would be refueled within the next 30 minutes, and the cycle repeated itself several times, Lemay said. 

Obligations must be placed on airports and their service providers as as well as carriers, he said.

Fewer delays expected at Pearson as weather improves, over 10 flights cancelled so far

  Fewer delays expected at Pearson as weather improves, over 10 flights cancelled so far Fewer delays expected at Pearson as weather improves, over 10 flights cancelled so far Toronto's Pearson International Airport is reporting fewer flight delays and cancellations on Sunday, as compared to the number on Saturday, because the weather has improved, an official says."It's better today. Obviously, the weather is better,"  said Jonathan Bagg, spokesperson for NAV Canada, which owns and operates Canada's civil air navigation service.

Air Transat . Ottawa . Air Transat Flight TS856 connects Ottawa , Canada to Cancun, Mexico, taking off from Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport YOW and landing at Cancun International Airport CUN.

Air Transat Flight TS843 connects Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic to Ottawa , Canada, taking off from Puerto Plata Gregorio Luperon International Airport POP and landing at Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport YOW.

“Indeed, as we have clearly seen in this case, the tendency is to focus solely on the actions of the airline.”

Passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs said it’s his opinion the airport is not at fault, and that talk about refueling is just confusing the issue.

“Where is the record of any attempt bring the aircraft to a gate?” he said. “They didn’t provide any evidence about efforts to disembark passengers.”

The minister of transport also waded in Wednesday, saying he was pleased the Canadian Transportation Agency is holding hearings to “shed light” on what happened.

“As a frequent traveller, I can imagine how difficult the situation must have been in those conditions after a long transatlantic flight,” said Marc Garneau, a former astronaut, who pointed to Bill C-49, legislation introduced in May that aims to create rules to strengthen air passenger rights, including establishing clear and fair standards for how passengers are to be treated, such as cases of long delays on the tarmac, overbooking, delays, cancellations and lost or damaged baggage. 

Lukacs said there are ways of finding out what happened, such as records of radio messages. But he is concerned about who will represent passenger interests at the hearing.

“There were tourists from Belgium. And what about the people from Montreal? How are they going to come to Ottawa to be witnesses? The airport will lawyer up, Air Transat will lawyer up. But what about the interests of the passengers? Questions won’t be answered because actual victims can’t cross-examine witnesses.” 

jlaucius@postmedia.com

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