Wheels up: On our way to new protections for air passengers

by Scott Streiner, Chair and CEO, Canadian Transportation Agency

(HillTimes 2018-10-22)

Canadians will soon have new protections when they fly.

In May 2016, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) launched the Regulatory Modernization Initiative (RMI), a complete review of all the regulations it administers to ensure that they keep pace with emerging business models, customer expectations, and best practices in the regulatory field. In May 2018, Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act, came into force, amending the Canada Transportation Act to, among other things, give the CTA authority to make regulations establishing minimum airline obligations towards passengers in a number of areas. And in September, Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, passed second reading in the House and was referred to a parliamentary committee.

A few days after Bill C-49 received Royal Assent, the CTA started public and stakeholder consultations on new air passenger protection regulations. Because we knew air travel issues are important to Canadians and they wanted to have their say on the new regulations – and because we also realized there was a desire to see the rules in place as soon as possible –, we provided multiple channels for public and stakeholder input and set a consultation timeline of three months. The response was remarkable. There were some 31,000 visits to our dedicated consultation website; almost 5,000 on-line questionnaires were completed; about 500 people uploaded comments; 900 randomly selected travellers were surveyed at 11 airports; 200 people attended in-person consultation sessions in eight cities across the country and a call-in session; 39 in-depth consultation meetings were held with stakeholders and experts; and 104 formal written submissions were sent in.

That feedback, and a summary of the What We Heard report, have been posted on our main website (www.otc-cta.gc.ca). We’re now developing the regulations, carefully considering all the information and suggestions provided by individual Canadians, consumer rights groups, and the airline industry, as well as best practices and lessons learned in other jurisdictions. Working within the framework established by Parliament, we’ll ensure that the regulations provide passengers with fair, clear, consistent rights if, for example, their flights are delayed or their bags are lost, while taking account of airlines’ operating realities. It’s expected that the air passenger protection regulations –- together with updated air transport regulations that will simplify approval processes for things like code shares and charter permits, as well as update airline insurance requirements – will be published for comment in the Canada Gazette before the end of the year.

At the same time, the CTA is working on new accessible transportation regulations. Accessible transportation is a human right whose realization is essential to achieving equality, inclusion, and dignity for Canadians with disabilities. Protecting and advancing this right is one of the CTA’s three core mandates. Our goal is nothing less than to make Canada’s national transportation system the most accessible in the world.

The new accessible transportation regulations will integrate two existing regulations and six voluntary codes into a single, robust, binding instrument. Accessible transportation was the focus of the first phase of RMI consultations, and a What We Heard report is available on our website. We’re aiming to have the regulations ready for publication in the Canada Gazette in early 2019, and if Bill C-81 is passed, we’ll have new tools to monitor and enforce compliance with them.

We’ve also recognized that because aviation, by its nature, crosses borders, efforts are needed to strengthen accessibility principles and practices for air travel at the international as well as domestic level. Doing so will benefit both Canadians with disabilities – by reducing the risk that they’ll face a sudden drop in accessibility standards when they land in another country – and airlines – by reducing the complexities of compliance with multiple regimes. That’s why the CTA, in partnership with other federal organizations like Global Affairs Canada and Transport Canada, has been spearheading efforts to give accessibility a more prominent place on the agenda of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). ICAO’s triennial General Assembly, which takes place next September in Montreal, will offer an opportunity to accelerate progress towards more consistent accessibility standards for air travel around the globe.

As Canada’s longest-standing independent regulator and tribunal, the CTA builds on strong foundations of experience and expertise, while bringing a commitment to engagement and agility to the delivery of its responsibilities in a rapidly changing world. Those foundations and that commitment will be reflected in the new air passenger protection, air transport, and accessible transportation regulations. Their finalization will establish a clear, modern, predictable set of requirements for airlines and make the air travel experience better for all Canadians.

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