Opening remarks from CTA Chair and CEO, Scott Streiner, to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities - December 1, 2020

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I want to thank the committee for inviting my colleagues and me to appear today. We're living through an unusual and difficult time. I hope all of you and your loved ones have remained healthy and safe over the last nine months. While we have our respective roles to play, we are, first and foremost, fellow citizens.

I have the privilege to lead the Canadian Transportation Agency. The CTA was established in 1904 and is Canada's longest-standing independent, quasi-judicial tribunal and regulator.

At no time in the century since the dawn of commercial aviation have airlines and their customers gone through the sorts of events we've witnessed since mid-March. Canadian airlines carried 85 per cent fewer passengers between March and September 2020 than during the same period in 2019. Such a collapse in volumes is without precedent.

Through this turmoil, the CTA has worked to protect air passengers. Despite the fact that almost every CTA employee has worked from home since the pandemic struck, the 300 dedicated public servants who make up the organization have spared no effort to continue providing service to Canadians.

Immediately after the crisis began, we updated our website with key information for travellers, so that those scrambling to get home would know their rights. We temporarily paused adjudications involving airlines to give them the ability to focus on repatriating the many thousands of Canadians stranded abroad. We took steps to help ensure that no Canadian who bought a non-refundable ticket would be left out of pocket for the value of cancelled flights. And we worked around to clock to process and issue the air licences and permits required for emergency repatriation flights and cargo flights to bring urgently-needed PPEs to Canada.

In the subsequent months, we've invested substantial resources and long hours to deal with the unprecedented tsunami of complaints filed since late 2019. Between the full coming-into-force on December 15 of the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, the APPR, and the start of the pandemic three months later, we received a record 11,000 complaints. Since then, we've received another 11,000.

To put these numbers in perspective, in all of 2015, just 800 complaints were submitted. In other words, we've been getting more complaints every two to four weeks than we used to get in a year.

We've already processed 6,000 complaints since the pandemic reached Canada. By early 2021, we'll start processing complaints filed during the pandemic, including those related to the contentious issue of refunds. If the recently-announced negotiations between the Government and airlines result in the payment of refunds to some passengers, a portion of those complaints may be quickly resolved.

On the topic of refunds, it's important to understand that the reason the APPR don't include a general obligation for airlines to pay refunds when flights are cancelled for reasons outside their control is because the legislation only allows the regulations to require that airlines ensure passengers can complete their itineraries. As a result, the APPR's refund obligation applies exclusively to flight cancellations within airlines' control.

No one realized at the time how important this gap was. No one foresaw mass, worldwide flight cancellations that would leave passengers seeking refunds frustrated, airlines facing major liquidity issues, and tens of thousands of airline employees without jobs.

Because the statutory framework doesn't include a general obligation around refunds for flight cancellations beyond airlines' control, any passenger entitlements in this regard depend on the wording of each airline's applicable tariff. Every refund complaint will be examined on its merits, taking the relevant tariff language into account.

The APPR are among the strongest air passenger protection rules in the world and cover a wider range of passenger concerns than any other regime. But we now know that the gap highlighted by the pandemic is significant. If and when the CTA is given the authority to fix that gap, we'll act quickly.

Just before wrapping up, I'd like to mention one more area where the CTA has been active: accessibility. Since the CTA's groundbreaking Accessible Transportation for Persons with Disabilities Regulations came into effect on June 25, we've been providing guidance to Canadians with disabilities and industry to ensure that these new rules are well-understood and respected. And we've continued to play a leadership role in encouraging the aviation sector, in Canada and around the globe, to integrate accessibility into the rebuilding process. Persons with disabilities should not be left behind as air travel gradually recovers.

Let me conclude by noting that because of the CTA's independent status and the quasi-judicial nature of our adjudications, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on Government policy or any matters currently before the CTA. But within those limits, my colleagues and I would be happy to respond to any questions you may have.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

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