The House of Commons Transport Committee will investigate the airport delays

The House of Commons Transport Committee is launching an inquiry into airport delays and flight cancellations.

The committee met virtually on Monday and voted unanimously to move forward with a study into the delays.

The committee will invite Transport Minister Omar Alghabra to testify and hold its first hearing late next week.

Airlines and airports have grappled with a surge in travel this summer, compounded by staffing shortages affecting both airlines and federal agencies.

This has led to widespread flight cancellations, baggage delays and long queues, with Greater Toronto’s Pearson International Airport hardest hit by these problems.

John Gradek, director of McGill University’s aviation management program, said airlines aggressively ramped up schedules as travel picked up again, but didn’t think about their own labor shortages.

Airlines laid off staff early in the pandemic and have faced the challenge of re-hiring enough workers in the industry.

“The airlines… launched a whole series of flights and schedules that were very aggressive to basically capture as much of this traffic as possible without really understanding the impact that would have on the capability of the infrastructure and aviation ecosystems handle all that traffic,” Gradek said.

Gradek said airports are also responsible for the delays because they have not limited the number of flights according to their capacities. Part of the problem, he said, is that they don’t have the power to order airlines to reduce flight volume.

Last week, the head of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority said delays at Canada’s busiest transport hub were falling, but made no specific commitments or timetables to improve travel times going forward.

Other airports around the world have ordered airlines to restrict flights. Britain’s Heathrow Airport ordered airlines to stop selling tickets for summer flights because it had capped the number of passengers per day.

“Airlines don’t want to cut schedules because if you cut schedules, you decrease your market share,” Gradek said.

He said he would pay close attention to any proposed solutions coming out of the Transport Committee to ensure there is limited airport disruption during the country’s next crisis.

Consensual efforts to resolve the issue don’t work, so “we need some authority,” he said.

Air Canada announced in June that it would cut more than 15 percent of its July and August schedule, more than 9,500 flights, due to the strained air transportation system. Meanwhile, WestJet said it was “proactively” cutting flights from its Pearson schedule in anticipation of summer travel growls.

According to Transport Canada, the government and the airline industry are working together to improve travel, including by meeting with stakeholders, increasing staff levels and improving the ArriveCan app.

Air Canada is also facing the heat by refusing to claim compensation from passengers whose flights are canceled or delayed by staff shortages as a result of the pandemic.

– Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press

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