TRAVEL & RECREATION » AIRPORT SAFETY
Deregulation leaves small and
medium sized airports exposed
Broadcast: October 17, 2001
| Reporter: Jim Nunn;
McArdle, Stephanie Kampf
a nightmare. You're flying over Canada. The pilot announces there's
an emergency, perhaps a fire onboard. The nearest airport
Nova Scotia. He'll try to make an emergency landing.
On the ground at Sydney, the alarm is sounded. But there
are no fire fighters at Sydney airport. Officials have to
rely on emergency crews from a nearby town.
Sydney airport is one of
many sold off by the
Canadian government in the cost cutting of the 1990's. Before
the airports were put up for sale, the government closed
their expensive airport fire departments. As a result many
airports have no on-site firefighters. Sydney's not alone.
Nearly 100 airports across the country have no on-site firefighters
"If it happened just as it was
or taking off, then we don't have that quick response time
that people say it's important to have," says Larry
MacPherson, the airport's CEO.
Sydney airport CEO Larry
Sydney handles 100,000 passengers a year.
A hundred transatlantic flights
pass overhead every day, and any one of those bigger planes
might be forced to land.
Sydney's on-site service ended in 1997. But the firefighting
equipment remains at the airport, without anyone to run it.
The airport relies on volunteer firefighters at Reserve Mines,
about seven kilometres away.
In a Marketplace test,
it took the Reserve Mines volunteers about nine minutes
to get to the airport. They had to get from
their homes to the local fire hall to suit up, before making
the trip to the airport. Their response time is three times
the international standard for major airports.
"A nine minute response time
you in the problem of a fire doubling in heat and size every
ten seconds," according
to Jim Lindsay, former fire chief at Toronto's Pearson International
Airport. "You could get penetration of ... very hot
noxious gases inside that aircraft for four minutes before
the fire department can even arrive. So at that point it
would become an impossible rescue."
Canadian requirements not up to international standards
American rules require on-site firefighting capabilities
at any airport where planes with 30 or more seats lands.
In Australia, every airport that handles passenger planes
must have on-site fire protection. It's the same in Britain.
It used to be that way in Canada, too. Now only our 28 major
airports must have on-site firefighters
"Most of the problems we have in the airline industry
today stem from two main polices," says Bob Perkins
of the Canadian Airline Pilots Association. "One is
privatization and deregulation and the other is government
Andrew Reddick blames federal government policy.
The Fredericton-based researcher for the Public Interest
Advocacy Centre has studied the impact of government policies
on airline travel for the past two years.
"All airports should be brought up to international
standards," Reddick told Marketplace.
means there should be an emergency response plan. There
should be fire trucks and rescue equipment on-site. There
should be staff on-site that are properly trained. There
should be government oversight and audits to ensure that
they're living up to regulations. And there should be funds
to ensure that the airports can meet the standards because
these guys are losing money right across the country."
|58 million people
fly every year in Canada
|5 per cent of air travellers use
small and medium sized airports - that's almost three
|A number of
Canadian airports are required to have on-site firefighting
capabilities - click
here for the list
|more than 100 small and medium-sized
Canadian airports do not have on-site firefighting
must have on-site firefighting services if they handle
planes with 30 or more seats
|Britain and Australia require
on-site services for any airport that handles passenger
At Fredericton in December 1997, Air Canada Flight 646 from
Toronto crashed off the runway and into the trees. In dense
fog, it took rescuers almost an hour to locate and reach
"Fredericton was one of the largest 28
airports in the country and ostensibly they were up to international
standards," Reddick said. "They were the best of
but what we found in this instance was
there were some major problems."
After Fredericton, the government did an about face. It
now wants to restore on-site fire protection at almost 100
Canadian airports. But it's a lot harder to put back than
it was to take out. The new owners of the airports say they
can't afford the cost.
This year, Sydney airport's deficit was $100,000.
fire and rescue would cost another $250,000 each year.
The people who run the airport say a few years of that and
there won't be a Sydney airport.
B.C. town says no to return of firefighting
Across the country, in Quesnel, B.C., Mayor
Steve Wallace says he doesn't want to pay for the government's
about-face either. But he goes a step further: no matter
who pays, he doesn't want the on-site service back.
When Quesnel took over the airport, they moved the fire
truck downtown, about ten minutes away. Wallace says that's
Andrew Reddick has just completed a two year
study of air travel in Canada: "High Hopes
and Low Standards"
Quesnel has joined forces with 17 other
like-minded B.C. municipalities with small airports. They've
hired a lawyer and are ready
to fight the government on this. Their major argument is
a cost/benefit analysis.
"The likelihood is the expense would be too great to
give any type of rationale to offer the service," Wallace
As someone who flies into small airports all the time, pilot
Bob Perkins finds Wallace's cost benefit math chilling.
"What we are talking about is a
very, very rare occurrence. But the consequences of that
occurrence are extremely high."
Perkins is proposing a user fee to ensure that there is
one level of safety for all airports across the country.
"People have done the calculations that would suggest
that for something less than a dollar a ticket you could
have full service at virtually every airport that people
fly into," Perkins said.
Consumer activist Andrew Reddick believes consumers have
already paid too much for bad government policy. He advises
to Canadians to make it clear to their MPs and to federal
Transport Minister David Collenette that this is not an acceptable
"We're at the point where something
has to be done. The system has to be fixed."
Response time at smaller airports »