Janet Dassinger and Philippe Gagnon | CUPE Research and CUPE Communications

In its rush to allow Canadian airlines to operate with one flight attendant to 50 passenger seats, a federal judge said Transport Canada neglected its air passenger safety mandate by approving dangerous changes to Sunwing’s emergency evacuation procedures.

Flight attendant giving safety instructions

CUPE asked the Federal Court for a judicial review of Transport Canada’s decision in December 2013. In February, a judge concluded that Transport Canada made the change without fully assessing the potential risk, and struck down the amendment. 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 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 a Transport Canada inspector allowed the company to skip an important standard safety measure, and a fourth test was successful.

Sunwing was ordered to reintroduce the original evacuation procedure.

The CUPE Airline Division is also challenging the 1:50 regulation on the political front. Prior to the last federal election, the airline Political Action Committee was formed to mobilize flight attendants to vote and to secure commitments from the major parties on passenger safety. Though the Liberal Party did not promise to scrap the regulation, it did commit to working with stakeholders to achieve a high level of passenger safety. The committee will continue to put pressure on the federal government to reinstate the 1:40 ratio.

Finally, CUPE recently joined the International Transportation Workers’ Federation (ITF) to observe treaty discussions on deregulation in the global airline industry by member countries including Canada in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Deregulation of the industry would create many problems, including weakening safety standards.

The ITF has called on airline unions around the world to demand that environmental and labour standards be part of any multilateral treaty.