Bill C-49 rates an Incomplete

  • National Newswatch

September is when kids go back to the classroom. It's also when parliament resumes sitting after the summer recess, typically the third week in September.This year is no different.But some MPs were back at work early getting their respective committees to consider pressing matters.That was the case with the Standing Committee on Transport that met this week to hold hearings on Bill C-49, the Government's passenger rights legislation.It's easy to understand why moving the bill through the House before the hectic holiday season, with its inevitable travel hassles, is a priority, but as always haste can make waste.When it comes to something as complex as aviation, getting it right is more important than getting it fast.We are not opposed to the Bill. We fully support government fostering a safe and competitive air transportation system, one that serves the needs of travelers and the country.But Bill C-49 doesn't do the job, because it's only one part of the solution.The Canada Transportation Act Review, also known as the Emerson Report, looked at the state of transportation in Canada with an eye to recommending fixes to improve the performance of all parts of the system.In its detailed chapter on aviation in Canada, it recognized the complex interconnections that contribute to a passenger's travel experience and our industry's competitiveness.It identified three major components of a competitive airline industry—cost, access and user experience.Bill C-49 focuses on only one—the user experience.The Bill tackles an important element of the system, and the one most evident to passengers. But it does nothing to address systemic problems that undermine the industry's competitiveness. Addressing one, although important, part is not going to fix a badly strained system.It could even make it worse.For example, Bill C-49's passenger rights regime revolves largely around economic penalties for dealing with service issues, as if additional costs slapped on the industry would disappear into the ether.By focusing only on air carriers, Bill C-49 also fails to recognize that the air travel experience doesn't start at check-in and end with baggage pick-up.And it doesn't take place in vacuum.There are a lot of players and moving parts involved in getting passengers safely to their destinations. It involves the coordinated efforts of thousands of skilled, dedicated people working in airlines, airports, air traffic control, air security, and border services.Every trip takes place within a complex web of systems, regulations, costs, technology and people. All contribute to the outcome, and all need to be considered when trying to improve service to passengers.Just as there is only one taxpayer, those who fly in our user-pay commercial aviation system pay all of the costs of running the system; capital, operating and those costs imposed by governments.The Emerson Report recognized how mounting fees and charges, as well as delays in security screening, affect the travel experience and its cost.It recommended phasing out rents that airports must pay to the federal government; reforming the user-pay policy for air transport; and implementing service standards for security screening.Unfortunately, the Government's current five-year fiscal framework fails to provide for any additional spending in this area. Bill C-49 as drafted will add more costs while doing nothing to relieve system bottlenecks outside the carriers' control.It's important that we get this right. Access to safe, efficient, affordable air travel is too critical to the lives of Canadians to fumble this opportunity.Flying has become an essential part of Canadian life, not a luxury. Last year, our members alone were responsible for 71 million passenger movements.With people now booking flights as readily as they drive their cars, air travel is becoming the domain of the middle class, not the one percent.That is why a competitive commercial aviation industry is so important, and why getting aviation policy right is so important.September is when the leaves start changing in Ottawa, it's also when budget talk within Government really gets serious.We hope that having gotten an early start, the Transport Committee uses the extra time on their hands to send a message to the Finance minister and his cabinet colleagues that fixing what ails Canada's aviation industry and improving the traveler experience will also require a bit more effort on their part.Legislation and regulations are part of the solution, but they should rest on a foundation of sound policies, including financial support.As a foundation, wishful thinking falls short.Massimo Bergamini is President and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC).