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Flight time regulations posing problems, say outfitters and First Nations

Group representing Northern Ontario’s tourist outfitters say new safety regulations for pilots are causing a burden for many sectors and communities.

A northern Ontario tourism organization and Indigenous communities are among those who say new federal regulations for pilots and flight duty times are having a negative impact. 

Laurie Marcil, the executive director with the Northern Outdoor Tourist Outfitters Association, said the new regulations for pilots doesn’t work for members she represents.

Transport Canada enacted the new regulations in December regarding pilots and flight duty times. 

Marcil said the fly-in season starts in May, with flights running supplies up to lodges, running owners up to post camps to get ready for the season and then starting to bring the first guests in.

“What we're hearing from operators is that there's less flights available, because of these [regulations]  and the air carriers are quoting that it's based on these flight duty times,” she said.

“They can't fly the way they used to. They can't do split shifts. So you can't have a pilot fly in the morning and then take a break and to have no flying for a couple of hours and then fly again late afternoon.”

She said the new regulations require pilots to be considered on duty the entire time.

“It's a very challenging situation,” she said, adding operators are telling her the costs have all gone up.

“The air carriers are telling us this is all coming at a time when we have an extreme pilot shortage,” she said.

"So in order for air carriers to meet and comply with the regulations, and provide the same level of service that they have in the past, they need to find more pilots and experienced pilots. Not just any pilot will do.”

She said the regulations are really complicated.

"In order for companies and organizations to be able to comply with these regulations, they need a better understanding, they need Transport Canada to explain how this is all supposed to work,” she said.

Marcil said while tourism is her main focus, the regulations impact many others in the North, including the mining and forestry sectors and Indigenous communities, which is why they formed a coalition to try to get the attention of Transport Canada. 

“We wanted to hear from everyone, make sure that all stakeholders were being heard, all sectors,” she said. “Our First Nation communities, they've been feeling these regulations impact them since December: Getting supplies and moving people in and out for [medical] appointments, all kinds of supply issues.”

Nishnawbe Aski Nation leaders have also spoken out against the regulations.

“Instead of unilaterally imposing unworkable regulations that will create further hardship for our First Nations, the federal government should be working with us to strengthen vital air service to northern and remote communities,” Deputy Grand Chief Victor Linklater said in a release. 

Marcil said they have tried to meet with Transport Canada to get their message across, but have heard nothing so far. 

She said she’s met with members of the opposition who have been very supportive, including Kenora MP Eric Melillo, who joined other Conservative MPs by releasing a statement calling on the federal transport minister to take a look at the regulations and simplify the process to allow services providers to develop their own fatigue management systems.

"There are some of the operators, some of the pilots I've been talking to who have concerns about this, but more than that, they just have questions about some of the clarity around these regulations and how it should impact them, what they should be doing. So that, that's a huge concern for us," Melillo said in an interview on Monday.

"It needs to be as transparent as possible. And we're just really urging the Federal government and Transport Canada more specifically to provide that clarity and hopefully provide that flexibility to smaller carriers that, that service Northwestern Ontario and regions like ours."

Marcil said she understands how the safety regulations can work for the large commercial airlines, like Air Canada and WestJet, but not for all operators.

“Not that we're not concerned about safety, everyone's concerned about safety,” she said. “But imposing this one size fits all rule is only going to create more concern for safety for the operators.” 

She said her organization is working with the Northern Air Transport Association, as well as Helicopter Association of Canada, which have done research on flight fatigue management.

“There are solutions out there that we want to tell the transport minister about because [these groups] have all the technical [information] and they've done all the research,” she said.

She said the timing of the new regulations is not good.

“The cost of these new regulations on an industry coming out of two years with virtually no revenue is just heartbreaking,” she said. “These operators need to be able to generate revenue to pay back the debt that they've acquired through the emergency programs during the pandemic.” 


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