Chairman's Opening Remarks - Air Transat Hearing

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Ottawa, ON

Upon commencing on Wednesday, August 30th, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.


THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you, Ms. Barrett.

Good morning.  My name is Scott Streiner. I am Chair and CEO of the Canadian Transportation Agency.  Sam Barone, on my left, and Paul Fitzgerald, on my right, are Members of the Agency assigned with me to the Panel dealing with the matters before us today.

We are here to hear evidence regarding the tarmac delays of two Air Transat flights on July 31, 2017: flight 507 from Rome and Flight 157 from Brussels. 

It was widely reported by numerous media outlets that these flights spent between 4 and 6 hours on the tarmac of the Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, and that during this time, passengers were not able to disembark the aircraft, air conditioning on the aircraft was unavailable, external temperatures ranged up to 28°C, and drinking water and food supplies were depleted.

Air travel is an integral part of modern life. Usually, it goes smoothly, but if it doesn't, passengers have rights. The CTA is committed to making sure these rights are respected.  Under the law as it currently stands, this means ensuring that air carriers apply their tariffs – the written documents that lay out their terms and conditions of carriage.  In some cases, it also means examining whether those terms and conditions are reasonable.

Air Transat's applicable tariff say that during a tarmac delay, crew are to offer drinks and snacks, when it is safe to do so, and that in a situation where a delay exceeds 90 minutes, passengers should be allowed to disembark, at the aircraft commander discretion, until it is time to depart.

Air Transat's response was received on August 4.  After reviewing that response, the Agency decided to convene this hearing to better understand Air Transat's actions, and what the airline said were "a confluence of factors beyond its control" that caused the events in question.  We also decided to also include, in the scope of the inquiry, the question of whether Air Transat's applicable tariff provisions are reasonable. 

To prepare the ground for the hearing, the Agency appointed one of its enforcement officers, Jean-Michel Gagnon, as an Inquiry Officer.

Between August 9 and 25, the Inquiry Officer conducted interviews and took written statements from individuals and organizations directly involved in, or affected by, the incidents; obtained documents and information relevant to the inquiry; and submitted a report summarizing the evidence gathered. 

I would like to acknowledge the professionalism and hard work of the Inquiry Officer and CTA staff who worked with him over the last several weeks, and thank all parties involved for your time, effort, and cooperation with the Inquiry Officer.

The purpose of the proceedings today and tomorrow is to allow the Agency to hear evidence from witnesses that supplements and clarifies evidence already provided to the Inquiry Officer.  Broader questions regarding rules around tarmac delays will not be addressed in this hearing. Rather, they will be dealt with through public consultations on air passenger rights regulations, which the Agency expects to begin if and when the Transportation Modernization Act currently before Parliament is passed.

Now, to some administrative matters:

The Panel issued a Procedural Direction on Monday setting out, for all participants, the procedures to be followed in this hearing. 

That direction provides a roadmap for the next two days, including timelines. My colleagues and I expect counsel and witnesses to adhere carefully to those timelines.

The Panel may pose questions in the course of presentations, but will generally refrain from doing so in order to allow witnesses to make a full presentation of their evidence.  Witnesses can expect questions from the Panel immediately after their presentation.

Air Transat, the subject of this inquiry, has been granted the right to question witnesses after their presentations.  Any other counsel or participant who wishes to ask questions of a witness must request permission to do so from the Panel immediately after the witness's testimony.  When doing so, the counsel or participant must explain the nature of the questions they wish to ask and how long they will take with their questioning, and the Panel will either grant or deny the request.

Finally, after the Panel, counsel for AT, and other counsel or participants have posed any questions, Agency counsel may ask a final set of questions to help confirm that the record is as complete as possible.

The Agency's Procedural Direction also outlines how to make claims for confidentiality and request an in camera, or closed-door session to discuss information that is found by the Agency to be confidential.  The parties are encouraged to keep as much information and discussion as possible on the public record, and to keep claims of confidentiality and requests for in camera sessions to a minimum.

We had a slightly later start this morning to permit us to properly set up for the day, but proceedings will begin promptly at 9 a.m. tomorrow.  We will sit until 5 p.m. each day.  We will break for lunch for one hour each day, and there will be 15-minute breaks at mid-morning and mid-afternoon.  The Panel may also choose to call additional breaks, if it wishes to confer in private.  Witnesses will only be released after breaks, in case the Panel decides over a break that we have more questions for them. 

To allow for an efficient hearing process, we encourage parties to keep their presentations and questioning focused and to have their witnesses organized such that they are always ready to call their next witness in situations where we may complete taking the evidence of prior witnesses early.

We will receive final written submissions from parties after the close of the hearing. 

As this is a public hearing, representatives of the media are, of course, welcome to attend.  However, we would ask for cooperation on a few matters.  Cameras have been allowed into the hearing room for purposes of broadcasting these proceedings and broadcasting by CPAC.  In addition, the media have been permitted to film these opening remarks.  As soon as I finish, I would ask that the media move to the back of the room behind the parties’ tables and turn off their cameras. No video or audio recordings are permitted, except for the webcasting and CPAC filming.

We have with us all public documents that have been filed by the parties and the media, and anyone else, are free to examine these documents at the back of the hearing room.

While we don't intend for this hearing to be unnecessarily formal, the Panel expects parties and observers to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with a quasi-judicial proceeding. Only the three Members, the Registrar, witnesses, and counsel are permitted to speak in the course of the hearing. Cell phones should be switched to silent mode. And any exit from, or re-entry to, the room should be kept to a minimum and done quietly.

I will now ask Ms. Barrett, our Hearing Registrar, to read out the list of appearances.  When your name is called, I ask that you rise and identify yourself for the Panel.  Where applicable, please also indicate the party that you represent. 

Finally, if there are any preliminary or procedural matters that any party wishes to raise, now is the time to do so, prior to the commencement of the witness appearances.

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