Remarks from the Chair and CEO, France Pégeot, at the ATAC Canadian Aviation Conference and Tradeshow, on November 18, 2021
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Good morning everyone. Thank you for the invitation and the opportunity this gives me to escape my home, actually my dining room table. I hope this will be the first of many "return to normal" meetings!
This is my first work engagement outside of Ottawa since COVID. Actually, in some ways, you are ahead of my own staff: except for a few that I can count on the fingers of one hand, I have yet to meet them in person, and they all remain "virtual" to me. All this to say, I am very pleased to be here with you today.
A few words about me:
It has already been a little more than 5 months since I was appointed Chair and CEO of the Canadian Transportation Agency, which has a fascinating and important mandate at a very special time. I have spent many years of my professional life in regulatory agencies and in economic development departments. I also did some work with administrative tribunals.
It is therefore very interesting for me to be with an organization that has a dual tribunal and regulatory mandate. It is also a privilege to work with the transportation industry, which is so important for the social and economic well being of Canada.
This morning, I will speak about three themes:
- a high-level overview of the Agency and its mandate,
- the heavy weather of the COVID-19 pandemic and the new regulations administered by the Agency,
- the Agency’s priorities for the future.
Legislative mandate: Both the Agency and ATAC have long histories in the transportation life of Canada. The Agency's mandate began with the expansion of the railways in Canada in 1904. We are Canada's longest-standing independent, expert tribunal and regulator.
ATAC has been the voice of Canadian commercial aviation since 1934. We have been the regulator of some ATAC members since 1938. As the aviation industry has grown and changed, so has the Agency.
Parliament has set out in legislation, in the National Transportation Policy, what is the foundation of the CTA’s work. This policy has inspired me since I started my job. One important goal of this policy is for Canada to have a competitive, economic and efficient transportation system. To achieve this, I want to highlight certain aspects of the policy that are particularly relevant to the Agency:
- Competition and market forces are the prime agents in providing transportation services;
- Regulation and government intervention, e.g. passenger protection, are used to achieve socially desirable benefits that market forces and competition cannot achieve alone;
- The transportation system has to be accessible without undue obstacle to the mobility of all persons or undue barrier to persons with disabilities – this is a human rights mandate;
- And that governments and the private sector should work together to achieve an integrated transportation system ꟷ something I will want to talk a bit about later.
What is the Agency’s mandate?
Let me take a few seconds to talk about the broad and diverse portfolio of the CTA’s work.
As I mentioned earlier, we are both an independent tribunal and regulator.
In addition to our mandates in the air industry, we oversee other aspects of the complex Canadian transportation system, particularly with respect to the rail sector.
For example, we approve the construction of federally-regulated railway lines, and we set various rates or revenue levels such as maximum railway revenue for moving Western grain.
Our remit also includes a wide swath of other mandates from air licensing, consumer travel complaints, accessible travel, and marine coasting trade, among others. Our stakeholders include those who work and invest in the transportation industry, use transportation services or are affected by federal transportation operations: airlines, railway companies, producers, shippers, travellers and businesses, and the communities that depend on it.
As a quasi-judicial tribunal, we can adjudicate cases and have similar power like a federal court. But for many issues like those between consumers and the air industry, we prefer to use alternative dispute resolution tools like facilitation and mediation. These are practical tools for addressing complaints - generating timely outcomes for all parties.
As a regulator, we issue regulatory authorizations and we develop, implement, monitor compliance and enforce regulations.
The Agency and the Pandemic
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we recognize what you have all gone through and continue to go through as an industry because we too are an integral part of the sector. We have seen the abrupt decrease in passenger traffic, the impact on your staff, and now, the challenges of trying to reopen to air travellers.
Like many of you, we also shifted rapidly to remote work in March 2020 and have continued to deliver all services remotely throughout 2020–2021.
During the pandemic, the public and our other stakeholders continued to request our services, file complaints, and do regular business with the CTA through normal channels.
We also took several steps to respond to the impacts of COVID-19 in the air industry.
We issued orders quickly in response to the pandemic – to reflect the radically changing operating environment of the air industry. These orders included stays on our cases involving airlines, temporary exemptions to certain requirements of the Air Passenger Protection regulations (APPR) and delayed the coming into force of certain requirements of the Accessibility regulations.
We also issued urgently-required charter permits to facilitate the repatriation of Canadians stranded abroad and to bring critical goods such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to Canada.
As a result of the coming into force of the APPR and COVID-19 we had unprecedented increase in complaints. We jumped from about 7,600 in 2018-19 to 19,000 in 2019-20 and an additional 13,000 last year.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of these are about flight disruptions. But also include significant increases in baggage complaints and complaints about new rights such as assistance to passengers during disruptions and communications.
How to address these complaints is a challenge for the Agency. The nature and volume of complaints are different from what the Agency has known in the past. Using facilitation and mediation to resolve disputes is a demonstrably timely, cost effective solution, and a constructive approach for everyone.
That being said, we have processed close to 20,000 complaints since the beginning of the pandemic. We are committed to working through the complaint backlog. I want to thank you for your collaboration in working with us on these complaints.
The interpretative decision that the Agency issued yesterday, with respect to an air carrier’s communication obligations, will help ensure a clear, consistent understanding of carriers’ obligations and of passengers’ rights pursuant to the APPR. It will also help passengers, carriers and the CTA resolve all of the related cases.
But the COVID-19 pandemic did expose a gap in Canada's air passenger protection framework. In December of last year, the Minister of Transport issued a direction giving the Agency the authority to develop a regulation to make sure that passengers could receive a refund when flights are cancelled for reasons beyond airlines’ control and they cannot rebook the passenger on another flight within a reasonable time.
The public comment period closed on October 1st and we are currently analyzing the input we received.
Strategic framework : Our Flight Plan for the Future
Over the last few years, the Agency’s priorities were to strengthen the regulatory foundation (including accessibility and air passenger protection), and the proposed refund regulation complements these efforts. With the substantial increase in the number of complaints and increased work in other areas, the Agency now faces operational challenges which are reflected in our new strategic directions that we recently adopted for the next 3 years.
New strategic directions
It starts with ensuring that we always keep in mind the outcomes to which we contribute:
An accessible, competitive, economic and efficient national transportation system that serves the needs of participants and communities, and in which people trust.
This outcome statement applies to all of the organization. But our functions as a tribunal and as a regulatory organization are different. While there are some intersections between the two functions which we have to manage, I also want to distinguish them clearly.
As an administrative tribunal, our overall objective is to provide timely dispute resolution services, impartial decision-making and access to justice based on procedures that are proportional with the impact and the complexity of the cases. Currently, our procedures are on the heavy side for passenger protection complaints. We want to increase clarity around our processes and ensure that passengers know what to expect when they send us a complaint, and that all parties feel heard in their dealings with the Agency. To achieve this goal, we must have simple, and more efficient processes that are appropriate to the nature of complaint, and I have challenged my staff to look at the way we work to improve the speed and efficacy of our decision-making and business processes.
Addressing our backlog of complaints is a priority. I believe we have a shared interest in processing these complaints as effectively and efficiently as possible.
We will be examining opportunities to improve our case file processing to help us in meeting this objective. As part of this work, we will explore efficiencies related to processing in collaboration with industry and other stakeholders. We have some early examples of successful changes such as "batching" of case files based on specific flight number and travel date to allow for "bulk file processing" by both CTA staff and the airlines.
We have also put measures in place to ensure that applicants have worked to resolve their complaint with the airline first and that applicants have provided complete file documentation prior to the application being accepted by the CTA. The introduction of changes, such as these, will ensure that the CTA and airlines can more efficiently manage a larger volume of complaints and better meet the expectations of travellers.
Moving into the future, there will be opportunities to work with airlines to review dispute resolution processes and data to understand what insights can be gleaned and changes could be introduced to improve our collective processing capacity. We will want to explore how we can work with you to support better dispute resolution processes , while protecting our impartiality and independence.
As a regulatory agency, we want to work with communities and all participants in the transportation system, including industry. We want to diversify more using a mix of regulatory and non-regulatory tools such as enforcement but also information and education.
We will continue to develop and build our relationship with our stakeholders of the aviation industry. We have a regulatory role to play and we will play it, but I also believe that a strong engagement with stakeholders enable us to be a better regulator to achieve better outcomes as we can understand better their perspectives and concerns. We will not always agree but we will be prepared to listen to you.
If we are to be successful as a regulator and tribunal, we must be as transparent as possible in our thinking, decisions, and processes. We need to ensure that you, the aviation industry, clearly understand where we stand and how we work.
Conclusion: Our core commitments
I want to close today by affirming our – the CTA's – core commitments to Canadians and industry.
We will continue to be an independent tribunal guided by the rules of natural justice and procedural fairness.
We will engage with you to find the most efficient and effective ways of ensuring the rights of consumers are met while providing you with the guidance and tools necessary to meet these obligations.
We will not shy away from using our enforcement powers when necessary to achieve desired outcomes, such as resolving systemic issues or ensuring fairness. But we will ask for your collaboration to provide the best outcomes for the transportation system, including industry and Canadians.
We will continue to advocate for an accessible transportation network and ensure the rights of persons with disabilities are protected.
We – you, the air industry and us, the regulator – have been through the proverbial wringer in the past two years. It is still difficult.
As we both emerge from the pandemic, I hope that we can work together with other stakeholders in the transportation system, such as passengers and people with disabilities, so that we have a competitive and efficient national transportation system which is accessible and provides a satisfying experience for its users.
Thank you for the invitation. I welcome your comments and questions.