Cleared for take-off: Regulatory reform and Canada's aviation sector

by Scott Streiner, Chair and CEO, Canadian Transportation Agency

(HillTimes 2018-04-23)

Not so long ago, human flight was an event. Now, many of us simply want it to be uneventful. From Toronto to Tokyo, Lima to London, affordable and reliable air travel has become essential to connecting families, friends, and businesses. And if it’s important to the prosperity and social fabric of most countries, it’s doubly so for Canada, given its geographic vastness, the deep links between its diverse population and the rest of the world, and its reliance on robust trade relationships.

The rules around air travel are about to undergo a significant modernization. The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) – the country’s longest-standing independent, expert regulatory tribunal – is playing a key role in elements of this reform, some of which will flow from the Transportation Modernization Act (Bill C-49) if and when it becomes law.

At the time of writing, the Bill had been returned from the Senate to the House of Commons with a number of amendments. Among its provisions are an increase in the maximum voting share foreign investors can hold in a Canadian airline from 25 to 49 per cent, which may help spur more competition and consumer choice, and a new process for the approval of joint ventures between carriers. The CTA will continue to be charged with ensuring that Canadian airlines are controlled in fact by Canadians. We’re working to make the process for control-in-fact determinations more predictable and timely, while allowing for innovation and protecting commercially sensitive information. We’ve consulted stakeholders on how to achieve these goals, and we’ll be releasing information on process improvements by the summer. 

The Bill also gives the CTA the mandate to make regulations setting out airlines’ obligations to passengers with respect to flight delays and cancellations, denied boarding, tarmac delays, lost and damaged baggage, the seating of children, the transportation of musical instruments, and communication of information. Air travel issues are very much on people’s minds, and the travelling public, consumer rights groups, and airlines will want to have their say as the CTA develops the regulations. At the same time, there will be a strong desire to see the regulations brought into force without unnecessary delay. To meet these expectations, the CTA has committed to launching consultations on air passenger protection regulations within 72 hours of the Bill’s receiving Royal Assent, if and when that happens, and completing the consultations within three months. Canadians will have multiple channels for sharing their views: an online questionnaire, written submissions, and participation in face-to-face sessions in eight cities across the country.  We’ll also hold a videoconference consultation for those unable to attend an in-person session, and conduct surveys in 11 airports. Once the consultations are done, we’ll move quickly to consider all input received and draft regulations that lay out a clear, transparent, fair, and consistent set of passenger rights.

Complementing the work on airlines’ obligations towards consumers are a number of anticipated updates to the Air Transportation Regulations. These regulations, which had not been broadly reviewed for decades, establish licensing conditions and charter notification procedures for carriers that want to offer publicly available air services in Canada. Based in part on feedback received during an 11-month consultation process, we’re considering amendments that will remove unnecessary administrative burdens for industry – facilitating innovation in business models – while strengthening airlines’ passenger insurance requirements – in line with enhanced protection for passengers generally. 

Finally, the CTA is engaged in an ambitious reform of regulations focused specifically on the accessibility of transportation services to persons with disabilities.  This effort began in spring 2016 and has now advanced through the consultation and analysis stages.  We expect to have modernized, comprehensive accessible transportation regulations ready later this year – regulations grounded in the vision of making Canada’s national transportation system the most accessible in the world. That’s an objective all Canadians can get behind, because in a nation whose fundamental values include equality and inclusion, there’s no reason that someone who, for example, is blind, uses a wheelchair, or has PTSD should be unable to travel. 

Taken together, these developments will mean significant changes for Canada’s aviation sector. Building on 114 years of experience and an abiding commitment to impartiality and engagement, the CTA will do its part to ensure that these changes help make Canadians’ air travel experience as uneventful, in the best sense of the word, as possible.

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