Arriving at destination: Regulatory modernization comes to Canada's aviation sector

by Scott Streiner, Chair and CEO, Canadian Transportation Agency (HillTimes 2019-04-01)

Important changes are coming to the economic and accessibility-related regulatory framework in which airlines in Canada operate, as three sets of regulations made by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) near finalization.

The most talked about are the new Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR). The CTA received a mandate to make these regulations when the Transportation Modernization Act came into force in May 2018, and moved quickly to consult consumer rights groups, industry, and Canadians across the country on what the regulations should say. Based on thousands of suggestions received – and drawing on best practices around the world – the CTA drafted the APPR, which were published in the Canada Gazette I in December for one last round of comments. 

The APPR will create a set of minimum airline obligations towards all passengers travelling to, from, and within Canada. Passengers, for example, will be entitled to clear explanations from airlines about their rights and any flight disruptions. If they reach their destination 3 or more hours after their planned arrival time for reasons within the control of the airline, except reasons related to safety, they’ll be entitled to cash compensation. If they’re bumped to a later flight due to practices like overbooking, they’ll have a right to particularly high compensation. If they’re sitting in an airport and their flight is delayed for more than 2 hours, they’ll be entitled to food, drink, and (if the delay lasts overnight) accommodation, unless the delay results from something totally outside the airline’s control. If they’re on a plane during a tarmac delay, they’ll be entitled to food, drink, working washrooms and ventilation, and a chance to communicate with the outside world – and allowed to disembark if the delay lasts over 3 hours. If their bags go missing or are damaged, they’ll be entitled to compensation for losses and a refund of any bag fees. And if they’re travelling with children, they’ll have a right to be seated in proximity to them without paying an extra charge.  

At the same time, the APPR will take into account airlines’ operating realities. If a flight delay is caused by a safety issue, the airline won’t owe passengers compensation, though it will still need to provide things like food and drink. If a tarmac delay hits the 3‑hour mark when departure is imminent – say, during de-icing – the airline will be permitted a short extension before it has to disembark passengers. And the flight delay/cancellation compensation and re-booking obligations for the small airlines that transport about one in ten travellers, including northern and ultra-low-cost carriers, will be less stringent than those of larger airlines.

In addition, a package released alongside the APPR – the updated Air Transportation Regulations – will encourage innovation and reduce administrative burdens for airlines by simplifying and streamlining the oversight of practices such as code sharing and aircraft leasing.

Finally, new Accessible Transportation for Persons with Disabilities Regulations (ATPDR), which were pre-published in Canada Gazette I in March, will help ensure that Canadians with disabilities have equal access to air (as well as federally regulated rail, ferry, and intercity bus) travel. Integrating and updating two existing regulations and six non-binding codes of practice – and covering everything from wheelchair assistance in airports to space for service dogs on planes to mandatory training for personnel – the ATPDR will, for the first time, ensure that the fundamental human rights of travellers with disabilities are protected by a single, robust, and enforceable set of rules. 

Taken together, these new and revised regulations will strike a fair balance and give all parties the benefit of clear, consistent, and common sense standards. The CTA is aiming to have final versions of all three regulations published in Canada Gazette II by the summer. Once that’s done, we’ll publish plain language guidance material to help industry and travellers understand what the regulations mean for them, implement a proactive education and compliance assurance program, and offer impartial and efficient dispute resolution services to deal with passenger concerns that can’t be resolved directly with airlines.

The modernization of the economic and accessibility-related regulations governing Canada’s aviation sector is on the cusp of completion. For all Canadians who use air travel to see family, visit new places, conduct business, go to school, and seek medical treatment, that’s very good news.

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