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A number of national consumer organizations have formed a new coalition called the Canadian Association of Airline Passengers (CAAP) to respond to the pending restructuring of the Canadian airline industry and to advocate policy and regulatory requirements which are fundamental to protect passengers’ rights.
CAAP has agreed on the text of an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights to be given to government, to the airlines and to ONEX. “If airline passengers in Canada had a nickel for every time the government, ONEX, Canadian or Air Canada used the word “consumer” in the last several weeks, we could all fly for free for the next two years”, said Andrew Reddick, one of the spokespersons for CAAP. He continued, “it’s time for consumers to be heard and the airline passenger Bill of Rights is the bottom line for consumers. As a matter of economic and social policy, the federal government has a responsibility beyond the immediate issue of mergers of billion dollar airlines, to publicly commit to address the outstanding needs of the public.”
Airline passengers will be better served if the discussion of options for the industry is not limited to bids aimed at maximizing short term profits. “Canadians have heard enough from the self-interested corporations vying for control of the airlines,” said Peter Bleyer, Executive Director of the Council of Canadians also a CAAP member. “It’s time we heard what the federal government intends to do to protect the national public interest. In the absence of coherent public policy on airline transportation, the corporate foxes appear to be in charge of the hen house.”
Cartoon by Rick Cousins, Deep River
Irrespective of whether the proposed merger goes through, a monopoly develops, or a competitive market is re-created by the federal government, CAAP maintains that there are a number of long standing consumer protection issues related to health and safety, service quality, pricing, regulation and public participation in decision making which must be addressed. “The current circumstances of restructuring and change create an opportunity for the government of Canada to address these rights and needs of the public,” stated Harry Gow, also a spokesperson for CAAP. He continued, “CAAP is asking that the federal government and the Minister of Transport commit to guaranteeing that, no matter how the current ONEX, Air Canada, Canadian debacle is resolved, over the next several months a process will be started to implement the Consumer Protection Bill of Rights over the next year. As a matter of sound economic policy, social policy and fairness, the interests and the rights of the Canadian travelling public must be addressed. The lives of passengers and the economic and social well being of our country demand it”, he concluded.
Michael Murphy of the Air Passenger Safety Group added, “Transport Canada says that safety is their number one priority, yet no where in any of the various proposals have we seen any mention of safety from Transport or the airlines.” CAAP observes that safety is not automatic but takes concerted and relentless effort from everyone in the air transportation system. It is unwise to expect the workers, who are at the greatest risk during these changing times, to ensure that the air transportation system remains safe. Murphy stated, “the last time this happened, we had a major crash at Dryden, Ontario on March 10, 1989, with the loss of two dozen lives. We nearly had a repeat at Fredericton in 1997. If the captains of the industry are not foremost concerned with aviation safety, then who is?” For an example of this complacency, CAAP notes that Transport Canada’s regulations for rescue and fire fighting at Canada’s 270 airports which host scheduled air service have been lowered and no longer meet basic international standards and recommended practices.
Cartoon by Rick Cousins, Deep River
CAAP has forwarded copies of the Air Passenger Protection Bill of Rights to ONEX, Canadian Airlines, Air Canada and the federal government.
The CAAP is composed of the following groups:
Air Passenger Safety Group, Ottawa (contact: Michael Murphy 613-799-2689)
The Council of Canadians , Ottawa (contact: Peter Bleyer 613-233-2773, ext. 223)
Options Consommateurs, Montreal. (contact: Jacques St. Amand, 514-598-7288)
Public Interest Advocacy Centre , Ottawa (contact: Michael Janigan 613-562-4002 ext. 26 Or Andrew Reddick ext. 22)
Transport 2000 Canada (contact: Harry Gow 613-562-5800, ext. 1808)