Evidence of meeting #19 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was airports.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Joseph Sparling  President, Air North
Monette Pasher  Interim President, Canadian Airports Council
Anthony Norejko  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Business Aviation Association
Robin Guy  Senior Director, Transportation, Infrastructure and Regulatory Policy, Canadian Chamber of Commerce
Glenn Priestley  Executive Director, Northern Air Transport Association
Julian Roberts  President and Chief Executive Officer, Pascan Inc.
Yani Gagnon  Executive Vice-President, Pascan Inc.

12:25 p.m.

Interim President, Canadian Airports Council

Monette Pasher

I think the minister is right in saying that there are a number of factors at play here. We certainly would share that view.

I think staffing is a big piece, and certainly staffing for peak times, as well as efficiency and the need to move towards a trusted traveller program in order to speed up security, which was also an issue prepandemic.

In the U.S., we're not seeing delays to this extent. They're certainly looking forward to the summer and anticipating what increase may happen. They certainly have some airports that have peak times where their customs border agents are seeing longer wait times in the hubs than they would have seen prepandemic, so I think we're not alone in these challenges.

We're certainly not alone in the staffing challenges, which they were seeing in the U.K. and many other places as well, so I think this is the ramp-up.

The piece that's important is that Canada has been slower to get back. The U.S. went through some of this a year ago as they opened their economy earlier. We're certainly seeing this challenge now in getting people back to work, and I think there is a lot to smooth out.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

Do Mr. Guy or Mr. Norejko want to add to that?

12:25 p.m.

Senior Director, Transportation, Infrastructure and Regulatory Policy, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Robin Guy

Yes, and I'll echo the comments of Ms. Pasher and add again the aspect of just reviewing the legacy pandemic regulations and taking a look at what's needed and what's not needed.

We see that the minister has sat down with a few individuals, including some from CATSA. I think those are positive steps, but I think the goal from our side is to help facilitate this and to do so more quickly.

12:25 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Business Aviation Association

Anthony Norejko

I'd offer that right now, at least in Canada, with our trusted traveller program, if you are a NEXUS-certified individual, you approach the CATSA line and you're in a fast lane, but you merge with the slow traffic ahead. In other words, there is no recognition for a trusted traveller.

We want to have a separate line, if you will, that recognizes and puts a risk profile to those passengers. Perhaps we can work with industry, and CATSA in particular, to identify...as in the U.S. where, for liquids, laptops etc., there is progress. That's on the airline side.

On the commercial side, or at least with respect to the charters and business aviation, the critical issue is transborder trade. Our problem right now is that ArriveCAN started as a Public Health Agency of Canada tool, very clearly to stand up to COVID-19.

As it transitions to CBSA, the challenge is that right now, the way this process works at airports across the country that facilitate trade and economic activity all across the country, you need to make two phone calls to CBSA officers. The first phone call of the pilot in command is to report who they have aboard, their declarations and all their information. The second call needs to happen once they arrive at the destination.

The problem is that we are experiencing two-hour delays talking to anyone. If you want to feel the weight of the regulatory infrastructure right now, it's very challenging when you come to Canada and are going through that. We need to quickly move to recognize that ArriveCAN could be done in the same way.

Our business aviation passengers are predominantly trusted travellers. We need to recognize and develop a risk-based approach to the interface with CBSA. Those are the things that will help us, along with CATSA, to move our passengers quickly through the terminals and through our FBOs.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

Mr. Norejko—

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Peter Schiefke

Thank you very much, Ms. Koutrakis.

Next, we will go on to Mr. Muys.

Mr. Muys, the floor is yours. You have five minutes.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Muys Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

Thank you.

Thanks to all the witnesses who are here today for your time and your testimony. I know some are return witnesses to the committee.

We've heard a little bit about some of the ideas that you've brought forward in terms of reducing regulations and red tape that are a barrier going forward as we move on from the pandemic, everything from caribou collision reporting regulations, which I can only imagine are ridiculously cumbersome, to the logic behind some of the federal vaccine mandates and the need to review those. The regulations are out of touch.

Just amplifying Mr. Dowdall's question, what is probably the most egregious or most cumbersome regulation or piece of red tape or barrier in your mind that should be addressed in the medium and long terms by the federal government?

That is for each of the witnesses.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Peter Schiefke

We can start with Mr. Priestley.

Mr. Priestley, we'll turn the floor over to you.

12:30 p.m.

Executive Director, Northern Air Transport Association

Glenn Priestley

Thank you. It's a bit repetitive, but I wish we could get that accommodation for employees who have been laid off because they wouldn't get vaccinated for whatever reason. There's a workforce shortage, and there's a skilled workforce available. I think that is a solution that's obvious.

12:30 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Business Aviation Association

Anthony Norejko

On that question, definitely the COVID regulations right now.... Today, the 16th, sees the European Union, for instance, remove its mask mandate. In totality we understand the reasons why these things came about, but it is time now to find a way forward. Why? It's because of the frontline employees who interface with our passengers. Think of the challenges. You go from the United States to Canada, let's say, as a transborder passenger. Down there you don't need it. Here you do. You can't board a flight domestically because you're not vaccinated.

We need to find a way forward. That is the number one challenge, to get beyond COVID.

Thank you.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Peter Schiefke

We will turn it over to Mr. Sparling, and then to Ms. Pasher and Mr. Guy.

12:30 p.m.

President, Air North

Joseph Sparling

The flight and duty regulations are probably the most troublesome for us. We've spent a lot of time and effort trying to address them. I think the consultation on the regulations themselves was inadequate. They were advertised as a science-based approach. They were anything but. In fact, there was disagreement among the scientists and a very closed-minded approach, and it's costing industry money at a time when pilots are in short supply, as has been observed before.

That, for us, is the most troublesome regulation out there now.

12:30 p.m.

Interim President, Canadian Airports Council

Monette Pasher

I think I might have stated this a few times already, but really, it's removing the mandatory random testing that's happening in our airports. That would be the most cumbersome burden that we're facing right now. That's leading to bottlenecks. Our airports have stood up this testing quite quickly, worked alongside the Public Health Agency of Canada when our borders needed these measures, and we will be prepared to do that again, but really as we ramp back up to travel and want to support economic development throughout the summer, we really need to move this testing off-site.

12:30 p.m.

Senior Director, Transportation, Infrastructure and Regulatory Policy, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Robin Guy

Just after a major event I think the government should always undertake an assessment of the lessons learned to better understand what it did well and what it could do better next time. I would challenge that. I'd quickly say to identify what the outliers in regulations that may not exist elsewhere are and then simply put an economic lens on the regulation to make sure that we are being competitive with the regulation.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Muys Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

Just to amplify what my colleagues have said, I'd say we certainly welcome written submissions on suggestions for areas of red tape or pain points or hurdles you're facing. Those help in the construction of the recommendations and the report that comes out of the committee. Again, we would encourage that from all witnesses.

I was struck by the comment that we're 107th in competitiveness. The other thing that struck me was the fact that we're training workers here and then losing them to the U.S.

Have you any additional comments on that?

12:35 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Business Aviation Association

Anthony Norejko

Perhaps I can just add a quick comment. That statistic was alarming. It's out of 170 countries that we are 107th on price competitiveness, and the biggest challenge, of course, is the next one, which is being 40th in terms of promotion of travel and tourism. This was before COVID, so the problem is coming out of this. For a lot of good reasons these measures came into place, but now we need to move expeditiously to scale them down in a risk-responsible manner, because the perception, the amount of work that is required to come to the country, even if you qualify, can be quite taxing. That's a principal point that needs to be made.

Going forward on the training issue, you've heard it here. One of the missing elements on rural and urban airports is the importance that flight training units provide, as has been indicated a number of times by some of the panellists with respect to training the men and women who will become pilots and aviation maintenance engineers. Rural and urban airports are often the bases where these training units exist, and they are seeing these exponential price increases because that airport with no scheduled service is having to pass those costs on to those types of operators, so this adds to the cost of training, which perpetuates the problem of not finding the people to fill the roles.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Peter Schiefke

Thank you very much, Mr. Norejko.

Thank you very much, Mr. Muys.

Next we have Mr. Chahal.

Mr. Chahal, the floor is yours. You have five minutes.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

George Chahal Liberal Calgary Skyview, AB

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you to all the witnesses for your testimony today.

I'm going to start with Ms. Pasher. I understand that airports have the option to hire additional CATSA screeners at those airports, and that the GTAA has done so in the past but isn't doing so currently. Is that the case? If not, why not? Would this help alleviate some of the delays we're facing at our airports?

May 16th, 2022 / 12:35 p.m.

Interim President, Canadian Airports Council

Monette Pasher

Thank you for that great question.

Airports are never able to hire CATSA staff, but they are able to invest in CATSA to increase their staff complement at their airport. In the past, Pearson has done this when it wasn't able to get the number of screeners needed at its airport in order to meet their traffic volumes, as CATSA did not have the budget to deliver on those service volumes.

Pearson has taken on a billion dollars in debt to get through the pandemic. It's an extraordinary amount. They're in a challenging position right now in that they cannot invest in increasing the number of CATSA employees at the airport. Nor does CATSA have the ability. They're trying to “staff up”, so I think they're trying to meet demand on their own. We're not in a position where we would need to make that additional investment in CATSA resources right now.

The first week in May, passenger traffic peaked at 70%, so it got back to the 70% level for that first week in May. We're expecting seat capacity in July to be back to 90% in Canada. That's seat capacity.

A big ramp-up needs to happen here, and I think we need to look at how we adequately fund and staff CATSA and move forward to support our airports and the growth that we're seeing.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

George Chahal Liberal Calgary Skyview, AB

Getting further staff at the airports would help alleviate some of those delays, and the airport does have some mechanisms to do that.

I have one more question, Ms. Pasher, for you. We've seen a lot of conversation about the variants and how the government needed to take action to identify and trace those variants that were entering our country previously and still could be now. We know there are mechanisms to trace variants through waste water, but the airports are an important part of tracing and identifying those variants.

Would you disregard the advice of public health officials and experts regarding vaccine mandates, random testing or mask mandates on airplanes at our airports and with travel?

12:35 p.m.

Interim President, Canadian Airports Council

Monette Pasher

First, I want to be clear that the airport is not able to hire CATSA staff. It's under the purview of CATSA to hire CATSA staff, and they're working on that to get back to their regular volume, so we're not in a position where we can fund additional staff. That's just to be clear on that one.

Yes, I think the Public Health Agency of Canada has done a great job. I'm certainly not a health expert, but our airports have been strong supporters in making sure that all the elements they needed at our borders have been in place. However, they have moved forward on waste-water testing. Pearson has been part of a pilot in that, and we're seeing waste-water testing in our communities. They're doing this in the U.K. as well, testing off site within the community. There are ways they can monitor variants, according to PHAC, in terms of looking at variants that are coming into the country and within our communities. Waste water has been seen to reveal those variants four days earlier.

We're just asking Public Health to look at other measures that don't impede the flow of traffic at our airports.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

George Chahal Liberal Calgary Skyview, AB

Thank you.

Mr. Guy, the federal government has spent $11 billion to help the air sector during the pandemic. Based on my calculations, about a billion dollars was directed to airports. How much more would you have spent, and can you provide a figure?

12:40 p.m.

Senior Director, Transportation, Infrastructure and Regulatory Policy, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Robin Guy

Honestly, I'm probably not necessarily the best person to answer that question, but definitely the government stepped up and was key in providing funding to a lot of these airports. I think some of my comments with regard to funding really just stem from the fact that low traffic volumes over the last two years meant that airports had to delay much-needed capital projects. I think making sure that our airports play a critical role in moving not just passengers but also goods, and, therefore, providing some assistance to airports to make sure they can focus on the much-needed infrastructure projects will help facilitate movement and grow our economy.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

George Chahal Liberal Calgary Skyview, AB

You talked about—

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Peter Schiefke

I'm sorry, Mr. Chahal. I'm sure you have a great question lined up.