CUPE uses court rul­ing to push Ottawa to tighten air­line pas­sen­ger safety

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JOR­DAN PRESS

A re­cent court de­ci­sion should come as a warn­ing to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to stop play­ing fast and loose with air­line pas­sen­ger safety rules, says the head of a union that rep­re­sents thousands of flight at­ten­dants in Canada.

In the wake of the rul­ing last week by the Fed­eral Court of Ap­peal., the Cana­dian Union of Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees is urg­ing the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment to make changes to fed­eral aviation rules about the ra­tio of crew to pas­sen­gers on planes.

The court dis­agreed with Trans­port Canada’s con­clu­sion that there was no im­pact on pas­sen­ger or crew safety when it al­lowed Sun­wing Air­lines to in­crease the ra­tio of pas­sen­gers to flight at­ten­dants on its air­craft.

Un­der fed­eral rules at the time, flights orig­i­nat­ing in Canada were re­quired to have one at­ten­dant for ev­ery 40 pas­sen­gers, un­less the trans­port min­is­ter granted an ex­emp­tion.

In 2013, Sun­wing asked to raise the ra­tio to 1-50 on its Boe­ing 737800 air­craft — each of which can seat 189 pas­sen­gers, ac­cord­ing to seat­ing charts on the com­pany’s web­site. That ra­tio is now the thresh­old for all car­ri­ers in Canada.

Sun­wing also sought per­mis­sion to change pro­ce­dures for flight at­ten­dants dur­ing an emer­gency evac­u­a­tion.

How­ever, the air­line failed three sep­a­rate tests of the new sys­tem, in which crews were re­quired to per­form a par­tial evac­u­a­tion in just 15 sec­onds. A Trans­port Canada in­spec­tor was on hand for those tests.

The in­spec­tor sug­gested the crew could save time by fore­go­ing “block­ing” or­ders, which calls for a pas­sen­ger to block the aisle to al­low a crew mem­ber to open an emer­gency exit. The ad­vice worked; the crew passed the test.

How­ever, be­fore the gov­ern­ment could sign off on the change, Sun­wing was told to pro­vide a risk as­sess­ment show­ing that drop­ping the block­ing or­der from its pro­ce­dures wouldn’t com­pro­mise safety.

The re­sult­ing risk as­sess­ment said that it would be un­likely that pas­sen­gers would block emer­gency ex­its dur­ing an evac­u­a­tion.

CUPE took the gov­ern­ment to court over the de­ci­sion to in­crease the ra­tio on Sun­wing flights. The union rep­re­sents more than 11,500 flight at­ten­dants at nine air­lines.

The rul­ing, dated Aug. 4, said the risk as­sess­ment was “cur­sory and pro­vides no in­di­ca­tion of how this con­clu­sion was reached.” The judge also felt that tes­ti­mony at trial showed that “no re­li­able test­ing was con­ducted to ver­ify the ac­cu­racy of the con­clu­sions.”

The in­spec­tor didn’t re­view the as­sess­ment be­fore giv­ing his seal of ap­proval, the judge added.

The Supreme Court’s test for gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions re­quires that they be trans­par­ent, in­tel­li­gi­ble and jus­ti­fi­able; this de­ci­sion met none of those bench­marks, the judge said.

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