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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Transport and Communications

Issue 2 - Evidence, October 26, 2011


OTTAWA, Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications met today at 6:47 p.m. to examine and report on emerging issues related to the Canadian airline industry.

Senator Dennis Dawson (Chair) in the chair.

[Translation]

The Chair: Honourable senators, I declare this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications open. Thank you for your attendance.

[English]

Today we are continuing our study on the airline industry. Appearing before us are Captain Paul Strachan and Captain Gerry Perkins from the Air Canada Pilots Association. You have the floor.

Captain Paul Strachan, President, Air Canada Pilots Association: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and honourable senators. It is our pleasure to be able to be here today to hopefully assist you in discussing some of the emergent issues in the Canadian airline industry as we see them. You have our material before you. I will not read from the report. I would rather just highlight the six points that we make here, but of course we are happy to discuss not just these issues but any other issues you feel are pertinent to your work.

The overarching suggestion that we have for the Government of Canada is we see a tremendous need for coordination between departments of government, and we recommend that the best way to move in this respect would be to have a clearly iterated national transportation policy that embraces the aviation industry and the airline industry as the critical components of the overall Canadian economy that they really are.

I will speak for our airline, and of course there are others. Our airline, in terms of its scope, employs some 24,000 employees from coast to coast directly, and they live in places from Victoria to St. John's and everywhere in between. When you start to imagine the secondary economic activity that occurs because of the operations of Air Canada, you start to consider organizations or corporations like Consolidated Fuel, Cara or NAV CANADA, obviously airports, all sorts of spinoff economic activity that occurs in direct business relationships with Air Canada, which employs tens of thousands of other Canadians as well. If you take it one more step to the tertiary level, it gets even bigger. I am trying to impress that this airline has a huge economic footprint. It is larger, for instance, than I think the three auto manufacturers put together, certainly in terms of its impact in a nation such as ours, which is vast. We do not connect simply business centres, which of course we do. We carry the mail, we carry prisoners, we carry any manner of people and goods from point to point, and we connect to a lot of our remote communities to the rest of the country.

We discern that there are difficulties incumbent upon our industry by virtue of the fact that there seems to be difficulty in coordinating activities between different government departments. I will give you an example.

One of the bellwether flights for our airline is 2873. This is Toronto-Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Toronto. That flight is a 777 aircraft, and it typically carries 360-odd passengers. It departs Toronto around suppertime in the evening and arrives in Frankfurt in the morning. It departs Frankfurt a few hours later and returns to Toronto, arriving in the afternoon. Typically, of those 360-odd passengers, we find that 250 of them will be making connections to ultimate destinations elsewhere — the Lufthansa network in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, here in Canada of course across our own country and into the United States as well.

This is a critical flight for Air Canada. Of course, it is paid appropriate attention by virtue of that. Our dispatchers will plan the route for that flight carefully to ensure that we are maximizing our on-time performance in order to facilitate these connections. The good folks in Europe, European airspace control and in the various air traffic control centres through which that flight will operate, are very good at providing us with routings that are as direct as possible as well as our requested flight levels in terms of best wind field. The pilots, of course, adjust that based on real-time information and what they are actually seeing. There is coordinated activity of many agencies here to ensure that this aircraft arrives where it needs to be when it needs to be there.

All these agencies have done great work and gone to great efforts to get the aircraft to Toronto. Perhaps we have had a snow event in Toronto, but the GTA has done a great job kept the runways clean, and we get this plane to the gate within ten minutes of schedule. The gate opens, and the passengers are all off to make their connections. Canada Customs shows up and decides today is the today they are going to examine passports on the jetway, holding people on the plane and on the jetway before they re-examine the passport in the customs arrival hall. Our passengers miss connections. It costs us money. It costs the Canadian economy money because it deters people from travelling over our hub airports. We cannot have this. We have to have coordination. That is just one example where public safety needs to coordinate its efforts with Transport Canada in order to facilitate an industry that does what it is supposed to do. The impact is spread across the entire industry when it does not.

There are some labour market issues that we have raised with government and on which we have recommendations. One in particular is the increasing employment of foreign pilots to operate Canadian aircraft in our busy winter charter season. In the past, this has been done in enshrined reciprocal agreements with Canadian charter operators in a very symbiotic relationship whereby our busy winter season is served by foreign pilots operating aircraft here in Canada and, in turn, in the busy European summer season, Canadian pilots have worked in the U.K. predominantly but elsewhere as well to help them out in their busy season. By virtue of this, both parties benefit. There are no layoffs in slow seasons for one side or the other, and it has been very good. What we see happening now is that we are missing that enshrinement of reciprocity.

To give you an example, my information tells me that Sunwing Airlines this winter will employ over 200 foreign pilots in its charter operations, which I believe would place it in the position of having more foreign pilots than Canadian pilots. If we did not have a source of Canadian pilots available to us, this might make sense, but we do. We have Canadian pilots who are eager to perform this work but are being denied access to these jobs by virtue of their lack of holding a specific type endorsement for this aircraft. In this case, it is a 737 new generation, 737NG. You have to understand how an airline transport licence works. The ATPL licences the pilot to operate virtually any aircraft on the planet except for high performance jet aircraft or helicopters, unless it is specifically annotated, and the space shuttle, but anything else is within that person's competence to operate. However, for any aircraft over it 12,500 kilos, the person must have a specific type of endorsement and training on that specific type of aircraft. You have endorsements to the licence which licence the pilot to operate whichever type of endorsed aircraft he or she may be trained on. By advertising for type-rated 737NG pilots, you are excluding all of the ATPL pilots in Canada who do not possess that endorsement, and this is the basis on which the operators are saying they have no Canadian labour available and have to bring these people in from overseas. They are really avoiding the cost of training Canadians, because there are licensed Canadian pilots who are perfectly qualified to do that work. They simply lack the training.

I do not know, but I suspect that there is no difference in the amount that these operators are charging to the tour companies for providing them the lift, but they are avoiding the cost of training, and it is significant.

These types of endorsements typically cost $25,000 to $40,000, depending on the type of aircraft. However, what operators have done in the past to protect themselves is they have asked for a commitment of time from the pilot, after having been trained on the new aircraft to commit a period of time to them for which they will remain in the employ of that carrier so the carrier realizes the appropriate return on their investment, which is entirely reasonable. That is not even an option here today.

What is happening, then, is in the case of the failure of Skyservice, Canadian pilots have been on EI rolls, or they have left the industry because they have not been able to find work, or they have left the country to find gainful employment. We find many of them working now in the Middle East or in the Asia Pacific, those two regions predominantly, but there are other places where they have found employment. The net effect to the Canadian industry is that we have a tremendous brain drain happening here. The human resources and skills are leaving the country. It is a loss of human capital to our nation. These are unique skills and experience which are reposed in a small community. There are only 6,000 or 7,000 of us in the whole country who do this work. By losing this human capital, then, we are losing an incredible repository of the skills, knowledge, experience and judgment.

To give you an example, I am a military-trained pilot. The military spent over $1 million for each of us to get us to wing standard. Since then, we develop ourselves all the time. We are constantly renewing our skills. Our industry is constantly changing. Our work is constantly changing. We lose that. We lose the tax revenue for those people who would otherwise be paying for these good jobs in Canada. How are we replacing them? We are replacing them with foreign pilots to operate our aircraft for which we realize no tax revenue to the Government of Canada. Furthermore, we stagnate the labour market in our industry. There is no opportunity for progression for those who are already in it to move up to more complex aircraft or more responsibility as a captain, for instance, but ultimately we bar entry for new folks who want to be part of this industry. We think this is poor public policy, and it is something specifically that we think needs to be examined quickly.

Security at airports is a constant concern for us. We have a unique perspective because we see most of the things that are going on at the airport from our vantage point in the flight deck. We see ground operations. We see airside operations. We see terminal operations. We see what happens in security. Of course, we are well aware of what is going on in our aircraft. We have made recommendations in a white paper we submitted to Minister of State Merrifield on the occasion of his CATSA review where we made specific recommendations, which echoed many of the recommendations we have seen in the RCMP Spawn report, from the Auditor General, and from a former member of this committee, Senator Kenny. There are still problems. We are very happy to see the government move away from concentrating on screening of passengers, which we call keeping bad things off planes, and moving to behavioural pattern recognition, which seeks to prevent bad people from boarding aircraft. We think that is where the focus needs to move — good intelligence, good police work and good coordination. Let us keep the bad people off the planes, and we do not need to be so concerned at that point about some of the other things. That is not to say that we should not pay attention to that as well, but up to now we have not done enough on the bad people side of the equation.

We are still concerned about the airside operations on the ground, that is, ground access to the airside of our airports. We believe it is still in dire need of examination by the government. We repeat again that we are waiting for a hammer to fall here, and it needs to be looked at and needs to be looked at quickly.

The revision of flight time and duty time regulations in the Canadian Aviation Regulations is one process that is under way, which we have advocated at great length. Our jurisdiction is lagging far behind the rest of the world in its sensitivity to human physiology, and the realities that we face. If you look at a chart of prescriptive duty regulations and you plot on a 24-hour clock — on the X axis versus hours on duty on the Y axis — you will see a characteristic shape. CAP 371 in the U.K. has a back of the clock sensitivity. Pilots are not allowed to work as long during dark hours in the middle of the night as they are if they report for duty in the middle of the day. The European EASA guidelines are the same. The FAA and PRM in the U.S. are the same. It approximates our collective agreement — in which the Air Canada pilots have expended bargaining capital — to have flight time, duty time and rest regulations that approach reasonable. We do not think it should be left to the disparate bargaining strength of various pilot groups to address a regulatory issue. In fact, the ICAO standards in recommended practices insist that contracting states have prescriptive regulations which are founded in science. There is a large body of science with respect to fatigue, which is available.

The others I have mentioned have a characteristic curve. The Canadian regulations are stark in their contrast because they are a flat line across the top. These two pilots can report to work at any time in a 24-hour clock and work 15 hours on duty. We think it is a big safety issue. We are happy to see that the government has commissioned the Canadian Aviation Regulations Advisory Committee process, which is under way as we speak. Its mandate has been extended to the end of the year. We predicted there would be divisions among stakeholders based roughly along industry lines. I am talking about a scheduled airline versus a chartered airline, medevac operation, helicopter operation, or a business aircraft operation. Those divisions are beginning to emerge and it threatens to hamstring the process. This should have happened a long time ago. It has been 25 years since we last amended our regulations, and even then it was in a cosmetic fashion.

This is an important issue for us. We hope and trust that the Government of Canada will see the necessity to have concrete movement in respect of our regulations.

Others have been here to talk to you about airport rent. If our industry is going to be competitive, we must have something that approaches better harmony with competitors. We are seeing revenue leakage south of the border to proximate airports in Canada because people are driving. It is because tickets are cheaper. A large portion of cost these days is airport improvement fees, security surcharges and other add-on fees. These are almost sin taxes on the industry. It is hurting us big time. It may not all be airport rent. Rents are paid to the Canadian taxpayer, but we have disjointed, semi- fiefdoms in the airport authorities that we have created. These folks have virtually unlimited powers of taxation, and no accountability. There is no national policy directing their activities. I would like to ask some of those people — as a percentage of their revenue — how much money is going to pay airport rents and how much is going to service debt.

Banks are fairly happy to lend money to organizations, having the powers of taxation that they do. I suspect a lot of the beautiful terminals we have built across the country have cost a lot of money. While we have invested a lot of money in terminals, we do not see a commensurate investment in the operational side of the airport. We have one runway here in Ottawa that has been a problem a few times recently because it is not long. When it gets wet or contaminated with snow or ice, it can be difficult to operate. I am talking about runway 2507 in Ottawa. We have had three planes in recent memory that have overrun. These are the types of places where we think we need to reinvest fees collected from this industry, including things which make airports operational and that help us make connections. We do not need beautiful terminals if people do not have to spend all day in them. People want to get where they are going, which means build another runway and provide the facilities to move people, aircraft and goods. Let us make our airports work. That needs direction from the federal government. That needs to be an overarching directive to say, "Folks, this industry needs to work." That is a strong recommendation for us.

Finally, something that we have been working on in order to prepare ourselves, we are probably the only profession in the country that is not self-regulating. However, there are pilots who work for the regulators and perform functions that are unique or pertain to our craft. It is like being a doctor, lawyer or an engineer. Very few others are equipped to make commentary, and the folks who fly the aircraft at Air Canada main line — who we represent and who fly in the rest of the country — are among the best in the world at what that they do. The calibre of people that I have been fortunate to work with over the course of my career is tremendous. These are strong, intelligent, dedicated, driven people who are the subject matter experts in what they do. No one is more capable to determine what is good, what is not good, what needs to be changed, to be the repository of knowledge, and to discipline. We think this is properly reposed in the pilots of Canada in an independent college, along the lines of the College of Physicians and Surgeons and bar associations in different provinces. This is perhaps a cost-effective way of government to unload some of the regulatory functions in terms of licensing standards and training to pilots. This is an initiative that we support. We intend to be ready if and when the government is ready to sit down and talk about how we might get this done.

Those are my six points. I am happy to discuss these or other issues at play in the industry today. Thank you, honourable senators.

Senator Eaton: I am a big fan of Air Canada and I fly it weekly.

You brought this up — when you talked about security and the silo effect — and I have asked every other group of witnesses, including Air Canada and WestJet, why they would not want to sit and be members of the board of various airports. Do you see another way of trying to break down the information silo? Perhaps this is wrong, but if we look at the governance of the airports themselves — whether you are there, airline companies are there, security people are there — our airport authorities do not seem to represent any of you. As you say, they are entities on their own. How would you begin to break down the silos that seem to incapacitate most of our major airports?

Mr. Strachan: I think the airport authorities have tried to respond to some of the industry stakeholder concerns. I think of the Vancouver Airport Authority and the change it instituted since we had a major snow event in Vancouver. It ground operations to a halt for a period of days. They have taken steps to improve their operational capability. They have invested in some infrastructure, have some new snow clearing equipment and de-icing equipment. It is not entirely a barrier. It is not a brick wall. They listen to much of what we tell them.

What is missing is an overall direction or policy promulgated by the federal level to say, "This is what we want to do." The big thing missing from the airport authorities is accountability. They need to be accountable to some agency.

Senator Eaton: You said so yourself — we have these wonderful, beautiful terminals and they keep on building them. They know the debt is good. Banks know because the Government of Canada is standing there. They are not accountable to the airlines or to you guys.

I keep harping on this. I know I am not getting anywhere, but I feel if you, Air Canada and WestJet were at the table and said instead building another building we need another runway, or three of my flights from Frankfurt came in and 900 passengers were stopped and missed their connections because no one communicated they were looking for one person, you might get somewhere. There seems to be no basic communications that happen of a regular basis for such a huge entity.

Mr. Strachan: I agree, absolutely. If we could be tied into that governance process, it cannot help but be better.

Senator Eaton: At least you have a voice.

Mr. Strachan: We do consult with them, but we do not have any governance legitimacy.

In fairness, since I used the customs example, it kind of shows you how the interdepartmental issues go beyond those you would think of immediately. I have been told — and this is anecdotal so it may or may not be the case — that the reason customs inspects peoples' credentials on the jet way from time to time is there is some crazy law we have that says if the person gets off the jet way, they can claim asylum. There is an immigration idiosyncrasy there.

If that is the case, it is silly. Let us change the law. Why are we ripping our hair out in respect to the industry? If the law does not work, let us make it work. That is where other government departments have to coordinate with this one. However, it cannot hurt for us to be part of the governance process at the airport authorities.

Senator Eaton: Everyone that has come before this committee says the same thing you do — silo. They do not want to sit on the board, but they still feel they have no voice.

Mr. Strachan: I think the Minister of Transport is perhaps the appropriate federal entity. If there was accountability to the federal government from these airports, perhaps we would be in a better position to control some of the things that go on.

However, that is a question for the Government of Canada. I am just trying to tell you there is a problem. I think it is because the airports are operating as if they were businesses.

Senator Eaton: Yes, but they are not in touch with their customers.

Mr. Strachan: I disagree with the notion to begin with. They are facilitators; they are infrastructure. They support an industry, but they are not an industry themselves. They generate some revenue for the local economy but it is not the airport that is carrying people to our communities, it is the airlines. That is why airports exist. I think we have a little bit of the cart before the horse here.

Senator Zimmer: We had a witness last week who said exactly the same thing — that 90 per cent of the fees do not go to infrastructure, runways or anything. It goes to general revenue. Does anybody in this country have an idea how much money we are talking about? We cannot find out.

Mr. Strachan: I presume it would be a question for the Minister of Finance.

We agree that the revenues collected from this industry ought to be reinvested in the industry. I think the regulator is in a difficult position too; the regulator is having a hard time. There may not be enough people there and not enough clear direction for them to be effective in what they are doing.

Maybe that is a good place to reinvest some of the fees and taxes into — having a capable and effective regulator for starters, acting hopefully as a facilitator between other government departments.

I was at a conference here about six weeks ago; it was the Canadian Aviation Executives' Safety Network. It was a who's who of the aviation industry — everybody was there. Transport Canada was asking: What is our role, what should it be and how can we help the industry? I said exactly that — be a facilitator between government departments. I think that requires a guiding policy and guiding principles as well, and that has to come from the federal government.

Senator Greene: You fly into airports all over the world and have experience in airports all over the world. In a general way, are your experiences in the average large airport in Canada equal to your experiences in the average large American or European airport? I am interested in knowing about the services that you receive from airports.

Mr. Strachan: I will let Mr. Perkins take a stab at that. He has done a lot of international flying.

Captain Gerry Perkins, External Affairs Committee: I have flown all over the world and have been to a lot these airports. I see problems, like everyone does, at the Canadian large airports. For example, in cities like London and Frankfurt, Germany, I find the airports have the same services inside the terminal — big beautiful terminals, lots of Starbucks and book shops — but they are easier to operate. They have multiple runways operating all the time for the pilots and airlines to get in and out. They move a lot more traffic at movements per hour for larger airplanes than they do in Toronto or Vancouver.

Even in the United States, especially where I fly up and down the eastern seaboard to Florida and Atlanta, Georgia, the airports are fantastic. You can see the money they have spent on them. There are not the delays we have in Toronto.

We get cleared for an approach in airports in Florida 150 or 200 miles away. In Toronto, we could be over Lake Simcoe eight minutes from landing and they still have not picked a runway for us to land on — one of the two runways. They have spent a lot more money on the air side, building the airports in the United States, than they have in Canada.

Mr. Strachan: There is a regulatory aspect to this also and it ties in with air traffic control. I think the air traffic control manual of operations in Canada is far more restrictive than that in the U.S.

Toronto is the finest example. We now have three east-west runways in Toronto. We only have two northwest- southeast runways. These are the ones that arrive over the City of Mississauga, or the opposite, coming over Brampton to land from the south or north.

What typically happens in Toronto weather wise — summer or winter, it is the same — when you have a cold front coming through bringing a snow or thunderstorm event, often you have a very strong frontal passage that will dump a lot of snow or stop airport operations because of lightning.

Once that cold front passes, you get a tight pressure gradient on the winds behind it. The winds start howling out of the northwest. The skies are beautifully clear and you would think it would be the perfect conditions to catch up from the delays we just suffered, but we cannot because we have to switch to these north-south runways. They are not far enough apart to allow us to operate simultaneously and put through the same number of movements per hour as we can when we are operating east-west.

Often we will operate east-west and suffer crosswinds. It is not a serious degradation, but it is a safety consideration to be landing in crosswinds. However, we cling to those east-west runways as long as we can because we want to keep moving airplanes.

We cannot stop the weather event; we can only deal with it. When the front has gone by, the wind starts howling out of the northwest. It is a beautiful day, we should be able to catch up but we cannot.

Those runways in Toronto are about 3,500 feet apart. Off the top of my head, I can think of airports in the United States like Boston, Newark, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, San Francisco, St. Louis — any number of U.S. airports — where they operate simultaneous operations on parallel runways that are less than half that far apart.

In some cases, they operate in instrument flying conditions, under a procedure we call "precision radar monitor," PRM, approach. They are finding ways to put the traffic through the airport, which is what we need to do. There is no reason why we cannot do this. We should be doing this.

If it requires an investment in infrastructure, we should do it. If it requires us to change our operations' procedures for air traffic control, we should do it because it makes good sense for the industry.

Senator Merchant: In recent days the travelling public is beginning to ask whether Air Canada is an essential service. You advocate on behalf of the airline industry. What do you say?

Mr. Strachan: I think it is essential for this country. As we sit here today, it is absolutely essential. It is a cornerstone of our entire economy. It is a national asset. We need to look after it. It pains me when I think about what happened to this airline in the last decade. We had the most catastrophic terrorist event in the history of mankind, which impacted this industry like no other.

Then, shortly after, we had the largest health pandemic in Canada since polio, affecting predominantly the major hub of this airline. Predictably, the revenue crunch came upon Air Canada, and we were forced to seek creditor protection in the CCAA.

The folks that showed up with the money in that process were not interested in operating an airline. It was bad money. The bad money came and insinuated itself into this terribly distressed airline, took control, carved out assets, former wholly owned subsidiaries whether it be the regional aircraft, our operation Jazz, or the most successful loyalty rewards program on the planet at the time, I think, Aeroplan.

Air Canada maintenance, now called Aveos, technical services, hived these assets out of Air Canada and paid Air Canada a fraction of the true market value, which is given by the amount that they were able to turn around and sell those assets to as separate entities. Of course they pocketed the difference. Then they left.

These billions of dollars in asset value that were stripped out of Air Canada through these processes left not just the corporation, it left the country. This represents the wealth generated by, what, three generations of Canadians it took. We have been around 75 years. This used to be a Crown corporation.

In my estimation, in large degree, those were public assets. It took us a long time to build up that wealth in that organization and it is gone. That is not sustainable. We cannot continue to allow people to be rewarded for decapitalizing our industries.

Senator Merchant: Following up on that, if a group of Air Canada employees goes on strike, first of all you are not the only airline in Canada. There are other airlines that fly. If Air Canada is not flying, I think that people will find another way to get places. This is what I mean by "essential." I think you dealt with it a little differently.

If I cannot fly from Regina to Ottawa on Air Canada, maybe I will come on WestJet because I am happy to fly WestJet. Some people travel on business and they have to get somewhere right away.

Senator Greene: Point of order. This question is off topic. We are here to talk about the report that we are doing, and labour issues are not part of the report.

Senator Merchant: These gentlemen said they advocate for the airline industry and would answer questions on anything.

The Chair: I said at the beginning that we would deal with the report issues. I know they offered to answer other questions, but I think we should address the report issues. If we have time at the end you might bring up other subjects.

Senator Merchant: I want to know what happens with the contracts they have with the other airlines. The other day we had Jazz here.

If someone goes on strike and you are unable to fly, what happens to the contracts? Does everyone go on strike?

May I ask that question?

The Chair: Yes, briefly.

Senator Merchant: I do not know what happens. You have Jazz.

Mr. Strachan: You mean all the other labour units, would they be on strike, de facto, by virtue of the fact that we were?

Senator Mercer: Does Jazz go on strike as well?

Mr. Strachan: No, that is a completely separate entity.

Senator Merchant: They can still be flying even though they work for you, all the feeder airlines?

Mr. Strachan: Yes.

Mr. Perkins: I wanted to address the question that the senator asked about the essential service. There are few countries on this planet — I can think of two, maybe three — where you can fly an airplane for five hours and never leave the country. It is a broad country, and I believe is an essential service.

I heard some numbers, we have 24,000 employees. I heard our support network is in the tune of a quarter million people. Jobs depend on us flying every morning at seven o'clock. I believe it is essential.

If Air Canada goes on strike, there are other options to fly. There are always other options, but not covering the network we have. Not many countries this size have one airline. The United States has dozens of airlines that fly transport category jets, where Air Canada has one. We have WestJet, but they provide a different service than we do. There would be a crisis to get the people from coast to coast, including representatives back to Ottawa from their ridings all across the country, if we were not flying.

Senator Cochrane: Thank you very much for your presentations.

I want to talk about security. Tell me about the behaviour pattern of the people that you referred to in regard to having the ground access people. You said you had concerns about different things happening on the runway with these people that are there all the time. They are bringing in luggage, taking luggage and they are there spotting the planes in and out.

What are your main concerns? What is wrong with them? Is it the screening of the ground staff that is the problem? Before they are hired are they not screened? Do they have open access to the planes so that anything can happen, which means our security is jeopardized? Has the pilots association brought their concerns to the airport authority personnel?

Mr. Strachan: All airport staff are screened. We all undergo a security clearance procedure. It is unknown to me just how robust it is. I wonder how well our government departments communicate with each other. I left the air force 15 years ago with a top secret security clearance, and the next day I was presumed guilty. I had to go through the whole process again because I was not a military pilot anymore; I was just a civilian pilot.

They are screened. I cannot tell you how robust that screening process is.

Where we would be more concerned in respect of screening is if we are consistently screening them for prohibited items every time they re-enter or exit the secure side area. We know that criminal elements have penetrated our airports. They operate there today. Canada customs last year seized, I think, over $10 billion street value worth of narcotics alone. We know these criminal elements are operating in our airports. It is not a long stretch of the imagination to think that somebody's intent could be far more nefarious than moving drugs.

That is the caution. It has been identified before, most particularly by the RCMP in the SPAWN report.

Senator Cochrane: That is where your problem is, is it? This is as you enter the airport to go through that screening.

Mr. Strachan: We see it as one of the areas where we have not paid enough attention. We have spent all kinds of time, effort and money keeping bad things off planes, and we have all seen the lines in the screening room. We have these new X-ray view things, whatever they are called, the scanners, and that is all good. It is all good that we have done that, but it is the bad people side of the equation.

We are seeing the government with a pilot project now in Vancouver. We applaud it. It is a tremendous move in the right direction. It is not new. Other jurisdictions have been employing these sorts of techniques forever. I think immediately of Israel which, of course, has no choice. They also have an easier time of it because they basically have one airport, one access point to the secure side that it needs to observe.

Here in Canada that is not the case. We have literally hundreds. It is a much more difficult thing for us to do, but not one we can ignore. It is particularly in the case of those people working on the ground, not pilots or flight attendants. The ground staff of the airport, whether they are working for an airline, a fuelling company or caterer or whoever, we have to ensure we know who they are, what they are bringing with them. Based on the evidence, we are not doing very well.

Senator Cochrane: You are not happy with that.

Mr. Strachan: No, we are not.

Senator Cochrane: Has your association brought this intention forward?

Mr. Strachan: Yes, we have. As I said, we presented a white paper to Mr. Merrifield, then Minister of State for Transport, about two years ago. We are on record with those concerns and recommendations.

Senator Cochrane: Let me talk about the foreign pilots that you say are coming in now. We have pilots here, excess pilots, who cannot run a 737NG because they do not have the licence to do that.

Mr. Strachan: It is because they do not have the endorsement on their licence to do that.

Senator Cochrane: What will it take to get the endorsement on the licence? Does the pilot have to go through more training, of a year or so?

Mr. Strachan: It depends on what aircraft the pilots may have flown before. I have flown a Boeing 767, so when I sought my Boeing 757 endorsement, I simply had to do a day-long classroom course. There is so much commonality between these two types that it didn't take much to train me. If I had never flown a Boeing aircraft, that would be a different story. I would have to take the course from start to finish, which typically involves a week to a week and a half of ground school, learning the systems of the aircraft, and then a few days learning procedures and flows to operate the aircraft in normal circumstances. Then you go to flight simulator devices, where you practice normal operations and you learn to deal with emergency operations in a very realistic flight scenario. Once that is complete, you go into a line-indoctrination phase of actually flying the aircraft with a training captain. Finally, you complete what we would call a line check or operational evaluation, at which point your licence is fully endorsed to operate that aircraft.

Senator Cochrane: Is that about six months of training?

Mr. Strachan: No. Typically, the start of the course to the finish of the simulator phase would take a month, and the line indoctrination might take a couple of weeks, maybe less. It does not take long to do line indoctrination.

Senator Mercer: I will continue on the line that Senator Cochrane started.

You say it takes about a month. I am looking for a solution to this problem. We have a whole bunch of jobs in Canada that are being filled by people who are neither immigrants nor new Canadians. These are people who do the job and then leave.

They are not here as long as the people who are here, at this time of year, to pick apples in the Annapolis Valley.

Is the solution to find a way to join together the airline, the Pilots Association and government to fund this? Is that what we need? We are talking about the problem, but we are not talking about the solution.

Mr. Strachan: If there was government funding available, that would assist operators in bearing some of the cost. It is not insignificant cost. Our airline trains its own pilots on the types they operate. Air Transat trains its open people. WestJet is probably the best example. You have about 1,200 pilots there who all fly the 737NG. I guarantee you that very few of them, if any, had a 737NG endorsement before WestJet gave it to them.

In order to protect that significant investment that the operator is making in a pilot's training, it is not unreasonable for that operator to expect some commitment of time from the pilot to ensure that they realize the return on their investment. When I joined Skyservice, that is what happened to me. I was given an A330 type endorsement. It took me about a month to do. It cost the corporation a significant sum of money, and then I was asked to commit to a period of four years of employment. That $40,000 obligation was drawn down every month to zero at the end of four years. That is a way that the operator can protect their investment, while still allowing Canadians to get the advantage of the training and to develop our own skills indigenously.

Senator Mercer: You continue to use not insignificant amounts of money, and it seems to me that government is always providing funds for employment stimulus and training elsewhere. It would seem to me that if industry, unions and government could get their act together, they could, perhaps, share the costs. However, I do not have an idea of what the cost is. If you wanted to be qualified for the 737NG, what would it cost to bring either one of you up to speed?

Mr. Perkins: As we said before, anyone holding a valid Canadian airline transport-pilot licence is eligible to fly an airplane. It is just a matter of going on a course. I know people who have done it for anywhere between $10, 000 and $15,000 to, maybe, up to about $20, 000 or $30, 000. It is somewhere in that $10, 000 to $20, 000 range. If it was not so easy for these companies to hire the foreign pilots, they would be forced to take this cost on themselves and to train the Canadian airline pilots that are here, unemployed, with valid Canadian airline transport-pilot licences, willing and waiting to go to work and forced to leave the country. The cost savings that these companies are making doing this are not really being passed on to the public. They are just getting around the training cost of these individuals.

Senator Mercer: My point is that if some incentive were provided to the companies, with the involvement of the union, perhaps we could solve some of this problem and keep some people here. Those people who are staying here will pay taxes, et cetera.

Mr. Strachan: It certainly could not hurt, obviously. Most airlines find a way to do it. It is only a very few that we are talking about here that do not seem to want to bear that expense. Like I said, I do not think there is any difference in the amount they are charging the customer.

Senator Eaton: Picking up on his question about pilots, if you formed a pilot association, to direct your own profession, would you then insist on taking on all the training of pilots so that it becomes standardized across Canada?

Mr. Strachan: That would be a very long-term project. It might be one that might be able to be undertaken. The logical partner in doing that would be the manufacturer — the people who build the airplanes — because they are the same aircraft. That is ideal. If all pilots are flying it the same way, we can monitor the best practices and make sure everyone is doing it the same way. We spend a lot of time making sure everyone does it the same way.

Senator Eaton: It would be like a medical association. You set the standards, and everyone has to meet those standards. Then, they can fly for anyone. Right?

Mr. Strachan: Yes.

Senator MacDonald: Captain Strachan and Captain Perkins, thank you for being here. Good to see you again. I just want to touch upon what was raised by Senator Eaton. You were talking about establishing a college of pilots. It is interesting that you compared it to the medical and legal professions. The simple truth is, when we are up in the air, all of our lives are in your hands. I am always aware of it when I am on a plane. We all fly a lot here. When it comes to this college of pilots, are there similar organizations in other countries, and how do they work? Is there a template out there that you could use and apply?

Mr. Strachan: The most proximate one I can think of is Mexico. There is a college of airline pilots in Mexico. We could all learn a lot from what they do there. They have a good operation there. It is logical. No one is better capable of facilitating these things than those people who do it day-in and day-out. Like I say, there are not a lot of us.

Senator MacDonald: Has there been an attempt in Canada to establish one? Have they taken the initiative? Why haven't they?

Mr. Strachan: Our organization has provided some seed money for some philanthropically minded folks to go out and do just that, so that we can determine what the structure needs to look like, how the governance would occur and how would it interface with Transport Canada. Obviously there would have to be some sort of interface there. We are talking about personnel issues here, personnel licensing standards, training, discipline and these sorts of thing, but there is another cadre of regulatory responsibilities that is probably not appropriate for a college of pilots.

We have instituted the process, and we have folks working on that from all the pilot groups around the country as we speak.

Senator MacDonald: You think it is an idea whose time has come?

Mr. Strachan: Yes.

Senator MacDonald: Captain Perkins was talking about flying to other countries and international airports. I want to reverse that and look at Canada and flying into airports that are not part of the National Airports System. I fly into Sydney, Nova Scotia. Are there discernible differences in certain levels of service or security? Does anything stick out repeatedly as being different when you fly into those airports?

Mr. Perkins: Not off hand. I have spent a lot of time flying into Sydney, Nova Scotia, but not recently. Not all airports are suffering in the way that we talked about. One that comes to mind is Calgary, where a big project is underway to build a joint taxiway, possibly two runways. They are not all suffering that way — just the major ones like Toronto and Vancouver. Like Mr. Strachan said before, they are building beautiful terminals but are not spending money in the proper areas, such as moving people. For example, Ottawa needs more runways so we can get people in and out faster. I cannot really comment on the smaller airports because I have not flown into any in awhile.

Senator MacDonald: Most of the infrastructure limitations are in the major airports.

Mr. Strachan: That is where the biggest problem is. You see disparities in the level of service between Sydney and Toronto, whether they be services available, hours of customs operation, hours of tower operation, size of the terminal or crash fire response. There are differences. Most of the traffic is focused on our major airports — Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. Those create the biggest problems for us.

Mr. Perkins: There is a trickle-down effect, too. What is not working in Toronto affects flights getting to Halifax, which affects the flights to Sydney.

Mr. Strachan: You are right. A plane you might be waiting for in Toronto to go to St. John's might have started at LAX in Los Angeles. It might have been delayed out of Los Angeles or Vancouver before it got to Toronto. Now, they are just trying to catch up.

Mr. Perkins: There are more to operations than just runways, too. You will never have a requirement for more than one runway in Sydney, probably as long as I am alive.

[Translation]

Senator Boisvenu: I do not know, every time I go to Toronto, if there are always winds blowing out of the northwest, but I am indeed under the impression that it is always windy in Toronto.

Your association represents Air Canada's pilots, does it not?

Mr. Strachan: Yes, the pilots that operate Air Canada planes, like Boeing 777s and Embraers.

Senator Boisvenu: Does every company have its own pilots' association?

Mr. Strachan: Yes.

Senator Boisvenu: So, for problems such as those of foreign pilots and your schedules, which you say are problematic, there is no one place where these subjects can be discussed with all companies?

[English]

Mr. Strachan: Is there a forum for discussion?

[Translation]

Senator Boisvenu: Are there joint discussions about shared problems?

[English]

Mr. Strachan: Yes, we communicate with other pilot groups to talk about these sorts of things. On the issue of foreign pilots, I cannot say that I am advocating directly in the interests of Air Canada pilots. It does not affect us directly. Not every pilot association in the country has the same robust representation and resources that ours has. Hopefully in this particular instance I am advocating on behalf of pilots in general and the piloting profession in Canada as well as the public interest. This is a public policy issue as well.

[Translation]

Senator Boisvenu: If you wanted to promote this sort of umbrella association, you could then deal with these subjects more readily with everyone concerned and more quickly, could you not?

[English]

Mr. Strachan: Do you mean a kind of federation? We are discussing that as well. In fact, I will be meeting with my counterparts from other pilot associations across the country soon to discuss exactly that.

[Translation]

Senator Boisvenu: My last question is about airport security. I was a bit surprised when I arrived at the Senate to see that there was the Senate police and the House of Commons police, and that the RCMP was outside the buildings.

In an airport, there is airport security and, between passenger arrival and customs, you have customs security, in addition to municipal security outside the airport. Do all these people talk to one another?

[English]

Mr. Strachan: We support a layered approach to security. It cannot be one spot only and in support of one particular area. There are bad people and bad things can happen. At Tel Aviv, it starts the moment you drive onto the airport property. People watch you when you come in from the parking lot and enter the airport. They will take you for an interview, where they do the "good cop bad cop" routine and compare your stories. They measure that against a body of expertise that allows them to accurately identify which people may be the ones that ought to be singled out for special attention. They screen for certain objects just as we do. In fact, the Israeli national airline, El Al, flies with security on board every single flight. All of these things cost money; we appreciate that.

Perhaps one of our concerns is that with the creation of CATSA, we have another federal entity, which has done a fairly good job of the bad things side of the house. However, when we are talking about behavioural pattern recognition or coordinating intelligence and police work, we think that that responsibility is properly reposed in a law enforcement agency. We were discussing better control at airside ground operations. You have to have powers of arrest and detainment, otherwise you cannot apprehend. CATSA has no authority to apprehend persons. Presumably if we identified someone who was a real threat, we would want to get our hands on them; and CATSA is not in a position to do that. We have police in all our airports, but they would be on a five-minute call. By the time they get there, the culprit is gone. Police are more expensive, obviously, and we are sensitive to that; but sometimes you have to spend the money.

Senator Martin: I enjoyed your presentation. You convincingly articulated your unique position and perspective. I am a frequent flyer, as are many around this table. I cannot get here unless I fly just over five hours. You talked about pilot fatigue in your point number 4. That concerns me and I am sure that passenger safety is your primary concern.

You said that our regulations are currently non-compliant; but compliance is critical. You also said that a process is currently underway. Is that enough at this time? I know that process takes time, must be done well and everything has to be considered in making changes to regulations. However, what else should be done or needs to be done? Several other things concern me: the lack of runways, in some respects, whereby there are not as many choices. You pointed out some of your concerns. Specifically, how is this being addressed and are you confident that it will be in time?

Mr. Strachan: I hope there is the political will to realize that something has to happen and the situation has to change. We are so starkly different from most other jurisdictions that it is just glaring. We recommended that the process be streamlined. We were not all that excited about seeing it put into the Canadian Aviation Regulatory Advisory Committee process because it has been co-opted before. We see divisions along industry lines, and people start to throw up barriers. It is economic interests conflicting with safety interests. That is what it is. It is a reality. We can be honest about it.

We were hoping that it would be streamlined because this committee will come forward with some sort of recommendation to the Canadian Aviation Regulation Advisory Council, the body that actually passes new regulations. They will make a recommendation and it will be up to the CARAC what will actually become Canadian aviation regulations amendments.

We are optimistic that something will happen because we are not going away until it does. If nothing comes out of this process, you will hear a lot of noise from me.

Senator Martin: When did the process begin?

Mr. Strachan: I will guess that it was 15 to 18 months ago.

Senator Martin: Generally it would take 18 months to two years?

Mr. Strachan: I believe that the mandate expired, so the parties agreed to extend the mandate to the end of the year. I would presume that sometime early in the new year a recommendation will be made and then however long that process takes to get something in place. We are not reinventing the wheel here. Most other jurisdictions did this a long time ago. I cannot think of another country that has more onerous flight time, duty time, and rest requirement regulations than Canada. It is a national embarrassment. It is an embarrassment to us and to our industry. Let us get on with it, folks; it is long overdue.

Senator Martin: You are saying that this is flat-lined, there are two on it at any time, but is it staggered?

Mr. Strachan: No, there is nothing like that. When we start getting into long-range and ultra-long-range flying, we start adding pilots. On a Toronto-Tokyo flight there are three pilots. On a Toronto-Hong Kong flight there are four pilots. A Toronto-Hong Kong flight with four pilots is actually easier on the body than a Toronto-Tokyo flight with three. I have literally fallen asleep on the sidewalk in Narita because I have been so tired when I got there on a three- pilot operation, but I have never felt that I was unable to perform to my proper capacity on a Hong Kong flight. I always felt good with four of us. You get better rest when there are more of you there. It does make a difference.

I do not want to be alarmist. We have been doing this for a very long time. We are still pretty darn good at it. That is owing to the professionalism and the dedication of the people who drive the planes. We are jealous about that. We guard it carefully. We are proud of it. One thing that public policymakers will never have to fear from this organization is that we will allow technical and safety issues to migrate into political representational functions of the association. We do not use these sorts of issues to drive industrial agendas. When I am talking to a public policymaker it is because I genuinely believe there is a public policy interest and that my interest coincides. Enlightened self-interest, call it what you like, but we guard that jealously because our credibility is instantly destroyed if we do not.

Mr. Perkins: Those flight duty times do need attention because there are very few jobs where you travel from Toronto to Hong Kong and back inside of two and a half days. You transit all those time zones. You have been flying 15-hour flights each way, falling asleep at weird times of the day when you are at destination, you have a short rest and you come home. You are flying in an airplane at 6,000 to 7,000, which is daunting in itself.

Senator Eaton: Do you think that the crash of the Air France plane off of Brazil was due to fatigue, incompetence or something else?

Mr. Strachan: I do have a concern about that particular incident, and it is this: One of the means by which we have drastically improved the safety of this industry has been by fostering a culture of open reporting and discussion when mistakes are made or when threats are identified. We have a robust voluntary reporting system whereby when pilots have difficulty or have made a mistake they voluntarily provide the information within our corporations to our flight safety departments. The information should be shared with pilot associations, but the corporation is not always forthcoming with it, unfortunately. We keep asking them to do it, but they do not. That drives through to SMS, and we have some concerns about the effectiveness of SMS as it pertains to the airline industry as well.

Recently the sanctity and confidentiality of the information that is being voluntarily provided by the pilots has been coming under attack. Everyone wants to see these things now. A tribunal has subpoenaed aviation safety reports from our pilots. The cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder from the Air France incident was released to civil litigation. This causes me grave concern because we have come leaps and bounds in terms of safety in this industry because of the open culture that we have fostered and because pilots feel safe revealing what has happened to them so that others may learn from it. We have done a tremendous job. Just look at the statistics. This is a very safe industry, and that it is because of the dedication of many of us who really care about it. Now we are seeing these things creep into civil litigation in a sue-happy society where everyone wants to get their hands on the info. We are going to parse the decisions that two people made, sometimes in split seconds, over the course of a couple of years in civil litigation and perhaps assign liability, so that the pilots now may be in jeopardy. If we do that, we will regress 30 or 40 years in terms of aviation safety, because the reporting will dry up.

In order to fix that we need a legislative umbrella; we need protections around this so that it can be used for its intended purpose, which is to promote and enhance aviation safety, not to facilitate civil litigation.

Senator Eaton: Does that mean, though, that when something like the Air France accident happens, which is tragic for all, including the pilots who went down with the plane, you cannot come back with a verdict of pilot error or malfunctioning equipment? Does that mean you do not give a verdict?

Mr. Strachan: You absolutely do, but for what purpose? What will we do with what we determine? Let us say we determine that there was a mechanical failure, the right elevator was not operating properly which caused an unintended rolling moment and the pilot did not properly counteract that with opposite aileron, the plane entered into an unusual altitude, departed control flight and there was a catastrophic event. Will we use this information to sue the deceased pilot's estate or will we share it among the piloting community so that others may learn from what happened so that if it ever occurs to them perhaps we can avoid another catastrophic event? To me that is the only useful use for that information at that point.

Senator Eaton: I agree with you. You can still bring a verdict, but you do not allow litigation, you do not put it into the courts.

Mr. Strachan: That is right. We keep it for the stakeholders who can use it constructively. In that way we keep the information flowing.

The Chair: Captains Strachan and Perkins, thank you for your presentation. It was very interesting for us and gave us a very different perspective than what we have previously heard. Since you will probably follow our debate, if there are further comments you wish to make, please feel free to forward them to the clerk. Thank you very much for your presentation.

Mr. Strachan: Thank you very much.

(The committee adjourned.)