Toronto Pearson weather disruptions come under probe

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The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) has begun an investigation into disrupted operations at Toronto Pearson International airport on 7 January, when reported wind chill temperatures as low as -40˚C (-40˚F) contributed to hundreds of flight delays.

The GTAA’s board of directors has formed an ad hoc committee to study the weather delays at Canada's busiest airport via a 90-day investigation, the authority announced on 15 January.

Freezing equipment and the extremely cold temperatures prompted authorities to issue a ground stop for arriving North American flights at Pearson in the "early morning hours" of 7 January, the GTAA confirms. The hold was lifted at 10:00 that morning. International arrivals continued during that time at a slower rate than usual, the authority tells Flightglobal.

Aircraft faced gate hold times of 2h and 20min and as long as 5h and 18min during the delay, says the GTAA.

The board will consult with independent aviation experts and will share the findings of the investigations with the public, says Vijay Kanwar, chairman of GTAA’s board of directors, in a statement.

“We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience passengers have experienced,” says Kanwar. “The findings of the ad hoc committee will help ensure that when faced with extreme weather conditions in the future, we can, and will, do better.”

Air Canada was one of the carriers that operated on a reduced schedule through the weather and eventually had to temporarily suspend operations as a backlog of aircraft waiting for gates amassed.

“The tarmac was a skating rink,” says Michael Rousseau, the carrier’s chief financial officer while addressing investors at the AltaCorp Capital and ATB Corporate Financial Services Institutional Investor Conference in Toronto today.

“The question will be: Why was there so much ice on the tarmac at the time?” he says.

Calgary-based WestJet had cancelled 192 flights by 14:30 on 8 January, a blog on the carrier’s website shows. Those delays affected more than 22,000 people.

"Toronto Pearson is WestJet's second busiest airport with more than 83 flights departing daily to 52 destinations and we look forward to participating in the [review] process," says Fred Cleveland, WestJet's executive vice-president of operations. "Improving guest experience, regardless of the challenges faced in weather events, while ensuring the safety and well-being of our guests and our people is an opportunity we welcome wholeheartedly."

Air Canada’s Rousseau says the airline will be “heavily involved” in the review and is already involved in an ongoing dialogue with GTAA.

The “systematic and inclusive review” of winter operations at Pearson will include discussions of ways to improve operations and the factors leading to the ground stop, says the GTAA. The authority will discuss these topics with air carriers, ground handlers, Nav Canada and fuel companies, it adds. Airports Council International (ACI) will also provide a panel of experts for the review.