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Ottawa – In its rush to allow Canadian airlines to operate with one flight attendant to 50 passenger seats, Transport Canada neglected its air passenger safety mandate by approving an amendment to Sunwing’s Flight Attendant Manual (FAM) concerning emergency evacuation procedures, says the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the union representing the airlines flight attendants.

CUPE asked the Federal Court for a judicial review of Transport Canada’s approval of the FAM amendment in December 2013. In a decision released earlier this week, a federal court judge concluded that Transport Canada granted the amendement without conducting a comprehensive review of the risk assessment that Sunwing produced at their request and stuck down the amendment. In its decision the Court said:

“The failure to conduct the required ‘comprehensive review’ casts doubt on the integrity of the ultimate decision and has the potential to undermine confidence in the application of Transport Canada’s air passenger safety mandate. Specifically, this failure could jeopardize passenger and crew safety in an emergency situation.”

In order to operate with the 1-50 ratio, instead of the safety proven 1-40 ratio, Sunwing had to demonstrate that even with a reduced number of flight attendants on board, they could evacuate a plane in 15 seconds in the event of an emergency. After three failed tests on November 22 and 27, 2013, Transport Canada’s inspector, Luc Mayne, then suggested that the ‘blocking command’ specified in the FAM be dropped from the evacuation procedure, and a fourth test was successful.

The ‘blocking command’ refers to the flight attendant ordering two able bodied persons to hold other passengers back before going to open a door on the aircraft.  The object is to prevent passengers from stampeding to the door and possibly reaching it before the flight attendant, which can result in a number of dangerous scenarios.

“Sunwing must now respect the court decision and reintroduce the ‘blocking command’ during an evacuation procedure. Transport Canada should also fulfill its air passenger safety mandate by scrapping the 1-50 regulation and restoring the safety proven 1-40 ratio on all Canadian airlines,” said said Michel Cournoyer, president of CUPE’s Airline Division.

CUPE represents 1,000 flight attendants at Sunwing. In total, CUPE represents over 10,000 flight attendants employed by Air Canada, Air Transat, Calm Air, Canadian North, Canjet, Cathay Pacific, First Air and Sunwing.

For more information:
Philippe Gagnon, CUPE Communications
613-894-0146 pgagnon@scfp.ca